Hydro Currents

DOE unveils plan for long-term hydro development

The U.S. Department of Energy unveiled a plan in late April that calls upon industry members to collaborate with DOE and other federal agencies in creating a long-term plan allowing for the development of America’s uncultivated hydroelectric resources.

The Hydropower Vision plan is not only meant to increase the sector’s visibility but also to quantify and monetize its advantages in a way that makes it an attractive option for policymakers, developers and consumers. It is telling this story, DOE Wind and Water Power Program Manager Jose Zayas said, that makes the involvement of industry members so important.

“It will require participation from all of you in terms of your knowledge, your information and your voices,” Zayas said. “Our goal is that by the time we are completed, most of you know what this is about, most of you have had an opportunity to voice your opinion, and at the same time, you become agents of this work and of this industry.”

DOE will seek to answer a number of questions regarding the current state and future of hydroelectric power, including market and growth opportunities; how conventional and pumped-storage projects factor into America’s energy mix; hydropower’s economic, environmental and social benefits; and what activities might be needed to realize Hydropower Vision’s scope.

Zayas will provide an update on Hydropower Vision as a keynote speaker at the HydroVision International 2014 conference and exhibition in Nashville, Tenn., in July. DOE plans to issue a draft report during the third quarter of 2015.

Senate panel examines FERC nominees LaFleur, Bay

President Obama’s two nominees to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission testified in a confirmation hearing May 20, facing questions about FERC’s enforcement policies and whether Obama’s choice for chairman, Norman C. Bay, is sufficiently experienced to replace the other nominee, Commissioner Cheryl LaFleur, as chairman.

Obama renominated LaFleur to the commission in May. He appointed her acting FERC chairman in November in the wake of the withdrawal of his nomination of Colorado consultant Ronald J. Binz to be a member, and chairman, of the commission. Obama nominated Bay, currently director of FERC’s Office of Enforcement, to a commission seat in February, with the intention to name Bay chairman once he is confirmed by the Senate.

The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee convened the hearing to consider both nominations. Much of the discussion focused on FERC’s enforcement activity, particularly in light of an opinion column in the Wall Street Journal in which former FERC General Counsel William Scherman complained that FERC’s enforcement process had become unfair.

Several senators questioned why Bay was to be named FERC chairman, superseding LaFleur, who several said had done a good job. Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., said it appeared Bay had little experience in energy policy until he joined FERC in 2009. Several senators questioned whether Bay would act to protect electricity system liability in the face of the Environmental Protection Agency’s plans to issue carbon emission rules that are expected to shut down many of the nation’s baseload coal-fired plants.

Prior to joining the commission, LaFleur, a Democrat, had more than 20 years’ experience as a leader in the electricity and gas industries, retiring in 2007 as executive vice president and acting chief executive of National Grid USA.

Since July 2009, Bay has been responsible for protecting energy market consumers from fraud or market manipulation affecting FERC-regulated wholesale natural gas and electric markets. Before joining the commission, he was a law professor at the University of New Mexico.

Significant changes proposed to Endangered Species Act criteria

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Marine Fisheries Service are proposing changes intended to improve implementation of the Endangered Species Act.

These proposals include two rules and a policy to improve the process of designating areas of “critical habitat” and consulting on the effects of federal actions on this habitat. Critical habitat represents the habitat essential for a species’ recovery.

The first proposed rule revises the definition of “adverse modification” and focuses FWS’s review of federal actions on how they would affect the designated critical habitat’s ability to support recovery of the listed species. The second proposed rule clarifies the procedures and standards used for designating critical habitat. The third proposal is a policy to provide greater predictability, transparency and consistency regarding how the services consider exclusions from critical habitat designations.

“Our goal in proposing these revisions is to make the process of designating and consulting on critical habitat more predictable, more efficient and more easily understood, “says Gary Frazer, assistant director for ecological services with FWS.

Hopefully, passage of these changes will, among other effects, shorten the time required for hydro projects to complete the endangered species consultation process during the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission licensing and relicensing process.

For more on these changes, visit www.fws.gov/endangered/improving_esa/reg_reform.html.

Hydropower, other renewables to grow, EIA report says

A report released in early May by the U.S. Energy Information Administration projects national growth amongst renewables – including hydroelectric power – in coming decades. According to EIA’s Annual Energy Outlook 2014 (AEO2014), the increase in kilowatt-hours generated by renewables will fall second only to natural gas through 2040, while nuclear, coal, petroleum liquid and other forms will flatline or decrease.

EIA cites the U.S.’s emphasis on reducing carbon emissions and both state and federal legislation as the biggest contributors to green energy’s growth. Key amongst these policies are state renewable portfolio standards (RPS) – many of which have been amended in recent years to include eligibility for larger hydropower plants. Tax credit extensions for hydroelectricity and other renewables will also be a significant factor in their development, AEO2014 said.

The Annual Energy Outlook 2014 report is available at www.eia.gov/forecasts/aeo/pdf/0383%282014%29.pdf.

Free Flow Power files three license applications

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission received three license applications during March from Free Flow Power Corp. for projects at U.S. Army Corps of Engineers dams.

The Energy Infrastructure Update for March 2014 included original license applications from Free Flow Power for 24-MW Emsworth Locks and Dam and 12-MW Emsworth Back Channel Dam on the Ohio River in Allegheny County, Pa., and 42-MW Montgomery Locks and Dam on the Ohio River in Beaver County, Pa.

In other action in March, FERC reported the village of Potsdam, N.Y., placed in service a 700-kW capacity increase at its 800-kW Potsdam hydro project on the Raquette River. The project, which received a FERC exemption from licensing in 1981, now totals 1.5 MW. And FERC issued a hydrokinetic pilot project license for the 600-kW Admiralty Inlet Pilot tidal project to be installed in Washington’s Puget Sound.

The March report is available at www.ferc.gov/legal/staff-reports/2014/mar-infrastructure.pdf.

DOE says U.S. has 65 GW of untapped hydro potential

The U.S. Department of Energy and its Oak Ridge National Laboratory have released a resource assessment that estimates as much as 65 GW of new hydroelectric capacity could be developed across more than 3 million American rivers and streams.

The report, titled The New Stream-reach Development Assessment, capitalizes on recent advancements in geospatial datasets and indicates Alaska, California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Oregon and Washington led the country in greatest hydropower potential, while Kansas, Missouri, Pennsylvania and Wyoming led in new stream-reach hydropower potential.

“The United States has tremendous untapped clean energy resources and responsible development will help pave the way to a cleaner, more sustainable and diverse energy portfolio,” Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz said. “As the Energy Department works … to advance innovative hydropower technologies, the resource assessment released today provides unparalleled insight into new hydropower opportunities throughout the country.”

The study also assesses technical, socioeconomic and environmental characteristics that will help energy developers, policymakers and local communities “identify the most promising locations for sustainable hydropower facilities,” DOE said, while including “stream- and river-specific information on local wildlife habitats, protected lands, water use and quality and fishing access areas.”

NHA honors four legislators for hydropower advocacy

The National Hydropower Association awarded four members of Congress with NHA Legislator of the Year awards for their roles in championing hydroelectric power legislation through the House and Senate. Honored at NHA’s Annual Conference were Senators Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), and Representatives Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.) and Diana DeGette (D-Colo.) for their work on the Hydropower Regulatory Efficiency Act of 2013.

The bill, which was enacted by President Barack Obama in August, represents the only piece of energy-related legislation to have passed Congress this past year. The bill promotes the development of small and in-conduit hydropower projects and shortens the regulatory timeframes required of certain other low-impact hydropower projects. These additions could account for more than 12,000 MW of additional hydroelectric power, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

“We could not have done it without the incredible leadership and support of our congressional champions that we honor here this afternoon,” said Marc Gerken, President of NHA and American Municipal Power.

PUD could save millions with damless hydro project

Snohomish County Public Utility District No. 1 will be able to save itself US$10 million by not constructing a dam, weir or other barriers as part of a proposed 30-MW project on Washington’s South Fork Skykomish River. The plant would be a run-of-river addition to the state-owned Sunset Falls fish passage facility, made possible due to the unique geography of the river.

Snohomish County PUD said the South Fork Skykomish turns a complete 180 degrees upstream from the falls, creating a pool that can accommodate an underwater intake structure. Water would flow from the intake through a half-mile-long underground tunnel to the powerhouse, leaving sufficient water for fish, aesthetics and recreation.

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