Hydropower Renaissance

Guest Editorial – By Rick Miller

Rick Miller is president of the U.S.’s National Hydropower Association for the 2008-2009 term.

The hydro industry is experiencing a renaissance. Consider the following facts about hydropower development activity in the U.S.:*

    –40 conventional projects at existing dams, totaling more than 920 MW;
    –15 pumped-storage projects, totaling almost 10,000 MW; and
    –13 new conventional small hydro projects, totaling more than 40 MW.

In addition, there are multiple wave, tidal, and stream projects in various stages of development – the leading edge of a waterpower resource that can add many megawatts in the long term.

Altogether, these new sources will translate directly into clean, climate-friendly energy being brought on line and a new era of job creation for engineers, scientists, manufacturers, operators, and others.

The fact that the industry is experiencing this tremendous growth is a testament to the longstanding work of the National Hydropower Association (NHA) and its members – something we all should be proud of.

A variety of factors are contributing to this resurgence of interest in U.S. hydropower, including:

    –The Energy Policy Act of 2005 (EPAct 2005), where hydropower finally was recognized as a renewable energy source and eligible for support via production tax credits (PTC) and clean renewable energy bonds (CREB);
    –Utilities and developers adopting climate-friendly portfolio strategies;
    –Renewable portfolio standards in 26 states, many recognizing hydropower; and
    –Hydropower, especially pumped storage, being the best integrator of other renewables (such as wind and solar). Hydropower provides a robust solution to grid stability issues, and EPAct 2005 acknowledged pumped storage as a “transmission enhancement.”

Hydropower development is surging in response to the acknowledgment that hydro is an important part of the family of renewables, all of which contribute to a global climate change solution. Even some former industry critics are coming to recognize hydropower as an eco-friendly solution, with tremendous potential for alleviating carbon dioxide emissions. They are realizing the inclusive environment in which hydro projects are developed – that it is a collaborative and cooperative process, where the interests of many can be brought together. Ever-evolving design concepts and technology, optimized operation, and mitigation strategies that minimize effects on natural resources all contribute to making hydropower an increasingly attractive energy supply alternative.

The broad effort to develop and install hydropower units at existing non-hydro dams is an important initiative. Moreover, we are on the cusp of an explosion in pumped-storage projects that can support the integration of the thousands – and thousands of megawatts – of wind turbines coming on line. As an example of this need, one transmission system operator is faced with the prospect of integrating, by the end of 2009, approximately 3,800 MW of wind energy into a system that totals only 9,000 MW! Even with the best of wind forecasting and grid interconnections, what energy source other than pumped-storage hydropower is going to be able to cost-effectively provide the necessary grid-stabilizing capabilities?

Conditions are ripe for the enterprise of alternative energy in the U.S. There are actions we need to take to keep waterpower on the forefront of the American conscience. We must continue to:

    –Work closely with other renewable energy associations on Capitol Hill to seek and obtain a long-term extension of the PTCs and CREBs funding.
    –Meet with our members of Congress so they fully understand the job creation that is directly related to this renewed activity in the most proven, most reliable green energy source.
    –Educate state and federal agencies on the need to continue research and development funding for hydropower technology development, including: advanced turbines that provide increased generation and environmental performance; hydrokinetic applications in wave, tidal, stream, and conduit machines; and accurately assessing the resource potential and evaluating the various effects associated with commercializing these technologies.
    –Promote hydropower as a renewable resource in the evolving carbon cap and trade legislation, and fully understand how regional differences in energy production will affect our members.

We have much to do, and we are well-positioned to continue leading the renewable energy charge. It is a great privilege for me to serve the hydro industry as president of NHA, and I very much look forward to working with our industry members to make history together.

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