Hydropower Licensing Reform Ripe for Action

The U.S. government should encourage the growth of hydropower facilities in the country, similar to the other renewable energy technologies that have grown as a result of federal incentives for development and production.

WASHINGTON, DC, US, 2001-06-28 [SolarAccess.com] New hydro generation capacity costs an average of 5 to 8 cents per kilowatt-hour, John Prescott told the House Energy & Air Quality Subcommittee on Wednesday. Prescott is vice president of Idaho Power and a director of the National Hydropower Association. Hydropower accounts for 10 percent of U.S. electricity and 80 percent of its renewable energy, as well as providing recreational opportunities, flood control and irrigation benefits. In 1999, hydro dams in the country displaced the emissions of 77 megatonnes of carbon, as well as nitrogen oxide and sulfur dioxide, he explained. “While other renewable resources have received incentives for development and production – sparking growth in those industries – hydropower generation has been on a downward trend,” he says. While its lower generating cost is not a disadvantage encountered by other renewable industries, “hydro’s disadvantages hold equal merit and demand similar policies designed to encourage the development of renewable sources of power.” “America is in danger of losing significant hydropower capacity and operational flexibility at a time when it is most needed,” he adds. “As we face rising energy prices, energy shortages, and reliability and pollution concerns, now is the time for policy makers at the federal level to better incorporate hydropower into the nation’s long term energy strategy.” The “dysfunctional” licensing process operated by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission must be changed, says NHA, before two-thirds of all non-federal hydroelectric capacity is reviewed within 15 years. The total output is 29,000 MW, enough to serve 29 million homes. “Supply of hydropower is waning and America is in danger of losing significant hydropower capacity and operational flexibility at a time when it is most needed,” explains Prescott. “The U.S. has an impressive amount of new hydropower potential, and it has been ignored for far too long.” A study by the Department of Energy estimates 21,000 MW of potential capacity at existing dams, with 10,000 MW located in western regions. “This hydro capacity sits unused largely because of the complex regulatory scheme … but it is also undeveloped because there are no incentives for producers to bring new generation on-line, a process that is more expensive and complicated than ever,” he explains. “Historically, most legislative proposals that addressed renewable energy ignored hydropower and its increasingly marginal economic state caused by escalating regulatory costs and capacity restrictions,” and he denies that the hydropower industry wants to “roll back” environmental regulations. NHA represents 61 percent of hydroelectric capacity in the U.S. and 80,000 MW of power in North America.
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