Hydro Currents

House Committee holds field hearing on Columbia River Treaty

The U.S. House Natural Resources Committee held a full committee oversight field hearing in early December regarding the importance of power and flood control in future Columbia River Treaty negotiations. The meeting included testimony from the Bonneville Power Administration; U.S. Army Corps of Engineers; Canadian entities; public utility districts; rural electric cooperatives; and irrigation, navigation, tribes and other stakeholders.

The Columbia River Treaty was put into place in 1964 to coordinate hydropower generation and flood control on the 1,200-mile-long Columbia River system. Either the U.S. or Canada can cancel most of the treaty’s provisions after September 2024 with a minimum 10-year notice.

Key in these talks was a need to rebalance the Canadian entitlement, as it “exceeds the actual power benefit received,” according to a release from the committee.

The U.S. has released draft recommendations regarding potential modifications to the treaty. A final draft will be sent to the State Department soon.

Measures to help protect endangered salmon and other wildlife are included, although Chairman Doc Hastings, R-Wash., said he hopes they don’t overshadow other issues. “While modest improvements have been witness in the U.S. Entity’s draft recommendations, I remain concerned that ‘ecosystem issues’ continue to be emphasized over the core treaty functions that plainly will need to be addressed in bilateral discussions with Canada,” he said.

Past chairmen participate in FERC’s 1000th meeting

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission celebrated its 1000th meeting on Dec. 19, joined by a group of past commission chairmen at FERC headquarters in Washington, D.C.

Former FERC Chairmen Elizabeth Moler (1993-1997), James Hoecker (1997-2001), Curt Hebert (2001) and Joseph Kelliher (2005-2008) joined Acting Chairman Cheryl LaFleur (see page 4) and Commissioners Philip Moeller, John Norris and Tony Clark for a retrospective discussion of commission activities.

FERC was formed in 1977 when Congress enacted the Department of Energy Organization Act, which reorganized the Federal Power Commission and expanded its responsibilities to address the nation’s energy challenges. FERC administers the Federal Power, Natural Gas and Interstate Commerce acts.

The commission’s first chairman, Charles Curtis (1977-1981) addressed the gathering by recorded statement. Additionally, 34 FERC employees who have served since the commission’s formation were recognized for their service.

Small conduit development bill passes U.S. House

A bill designed to further support small conduit development passed the U.S. House of Representatives by a voice vote in early December. The legislation, called the Bureau of Reclamation Conduit Hydropower Development Equity and Jobs Act – or House Resolution 1963 – will now be submitted to the Senate for further review.

The bill is almost identical to the Bureau of Reclamation Small Conduit Hydropower Development and Rural Jobs Act (H.R. 678), which was passed to the Senate for voting in May. Both bills are intended to improve conditions for small hydroelectric development by cutting red tape and simplifying the permitting process for projects up to 5 MW on Reclamation-owned tunnels, canals, pipelines, aqueducts, flumes, ditches and similar manmade infrastructure.

Like its predecessor, H.R. 1963 would apply Reclamation’s “categorical exclusion” from the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA) to eliminate redundancies in the approval process. H.R. 1963 differs from the older bill in including language specifically pursuant to projects that would be subject to the Water Conservation and Utilization Act of 1939.

Although H.R. 678 would cover the majority of Reclamation projects, H.R. 1963 expands the bill to include any the former might have excluded.

The proposal was introduced by Rep. Steve Daines, R-Mont., in May and has four co-sponsors.

Canadian government works out loan guarantee for Lower Churchill projects

Canadian officials finalized a federal loan guarantee for Nalcor Energy’s Lower Churchill project in early December. The guarantee will apply to up to C$5 billion (US$4.7 billion) of project debt for the 824-MW Muskrat Falls Hydroelectric Generating Station, Labrador Transmission Assets and Labrador-Island Transmission Link.

Nalcor is developing the Muskrat Falls station, located on the Churchill River in Labrador. The Labrador Transmission Assets will be a 315-kV, high-voltage alternating current transmission interconnection between Muskrat Falls and the existing upstream Churchill Falls Hydroelectric Generating Station. The Labrador-Island Transmission Link will be a 1,135-km, high-voltage direct current transmission line between Muskrat Falls and the Island of Newfoundland with a transfer capability of 900 MW.

The projects will make a major contribution to meeting Atlantic Canada’s energy needs while reducing annual CO2 emissions by up to 4.5 megatonnes per year. The Lower Churchill River projects will create about 1,500 jobs during each year of construction. The Muskrat Falls station alone will provide about 3,100 direct jobs during the peak of construction.

Nalcor and Emera Inc. estimate the total projected cost of the Lower Churchill project to be about C.7 billion (US.3 billion). Nalcor will construct and own 100% of the Muskrat Falls station and will also build the Labrador-Island Transmission Link through a joint venture with Emera.

Phase two of the Lower Churchill Project will consist of development of the 2,250-MW Gull Island hydro facility and associated transmission to markets.

Editor’s Note: This content was adapted from GenerationHub.com, a sister site of HydroWorld.com that covers power generation, including renewables.

Expansion of Holtwood hydropower project complete

PPL Holtwood has completed work on a 125-MW powerhouse at the Holtwood plant on the Susquehanna River in Pennsylvania. The new two-turbine powerhouse sits adjacent to an existing 108-MW powerhouse and more than doubles the project’s capacity to 233 MW.

“This project represents a major investment in clean, reliable, renewable energy,” said PPL Senior Vice President of Fossil and Hydro Generation Victor Lopiano. “This project highlights the potential to upgrade existing hydroelectric facilities and expand capacity without the need to build new dams.”

In addition to adding capacity, the US$440 million expansion is also expected to improve fish passage along the Susquehanna River and its tributaries.

PPL Holtwood expects to qualify for federal grants made available through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. The incentives were a key factor in the company’s decision to build the expansion and are expected to exceed $100 million.

Construction created more than 300 jobs. Work on the expansion began in 2010, and the company says final grading and site work is now being completed.

Developers lay subsea data cable at tidal energy research center

Developers of the Fundy Ocean Research Center for Energy (FORCE) in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, have installed a data cable to connect an underwater research platform, marking an important milestone in the tidal energy test site’s progression.

FORCE said this is the first subsea cable installed in the Minas Passage and is part of a US$10 million research project to build the Fundy Advanced Sensor Technology (FAST) platform. FAST is a recoverable instrument platform designed to monitor and characterize the FORCE site, allowing for continuous, real-time data transmission from the platform to shore.

Installation of the cable marks the culmination of months of planning that involved more than 30 personnel. Adding to the challenge were the bay’s harsh conditions. “We were working in a blizzard, but with good data, careful planning and the expertise of a diverse, skilled team, we succeeded,” FORCE Director of Marine Operations Tony Wright said. “It’s a big day for FORCE. We have a cable in the water.” The team included R.J. MacIsaac Construction, International Telecom and Seaforth Geosurveys.

FORCE says the experience gained will be important in planning for the deployment of four subsea power cables in 2014, which will connect the site’s tidal turbines to the power grid.

Obama names LaFleur acting FERC chairman

President Barack Obama has appointed Commissioner Cheryl A. LaFleur acting chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, succeeding Chairman Jon Wellinghoff, who submitted his resignation in May. LaFleur, who joined FERC in 2010, is a Massachusetts Democrat whose term expires in 2014.

“I am honored to lead the commission at a time when the nation is making substantial changes in its energy supply and infrastructure to meet environmental challenges and improve reliability and security,” LaFleur said. “The commission also has important work ahead in implementing Order No. 1000, setting transmission rates, and ensuring competitive markets work fairly and effectively for consumers.”

LaFleur’s nomination comes on the heels of the withdrawal of Obama’s nomination of controversial Colorado consultant Ronald J. Binz to be a member, and chairman, of the commission. Binz withdrew when it became apparent his nomination would receive a negative recommendation from the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

While at FERC, LaFleur has focused attention on strengthening reliability and grid security, promoting regional transmission planning, and supporting a clean and diverse power supply. She has served as FERC’s liaison to the Department of Energy’s Electricity Advisory Committee and is a member of the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners’ committees on Electricity and Critical Infrastructure.

Reclamation employee dies after fall at Pinto Dam

Holger “Hall” Jensen died on Dec. 25 as a result of injuries sustained from a fall at a construction site at Pinto Dam in Washington. Jensen was a civil engineer with the construction engineering group in the Pacific Northwest Regional Office of the U.S. Department of Interior’s Bureau of Reclamation in Idaho.

The accident happened on Dec. 23, when Jensen fell about 35 feet onto a concrete surface while conducting an inspection of construction at the dam. The construction was being done to modify the structure to store additional water. Jensen suffered extensive head injuries.

“Our hearts are heavy within the Reclamation family today,” said Commissioner Michael L. Connor. “At this time of sadness and tragedy, we want to extend our deepest respect and sympathy for the Jensen family.”

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Renewable Energy World's content team members help deliver the most comprehensive news coverage of the renewable energy industries. Based in the U.S., the UK, and South Africa, the team is comprised of editors from Clarion Energy's myriad of publications that cover the global energy industry.

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