Perspectives: Let’s Give Hydropower a Boost

A recent report from the U.S. Energy Information Administration indicated that, in April 2014, annual non-hydro renewable generation in this country surpassed annual hydropower generation for the 8th month in a row.

I’m glad the U.S. is promoting renewables in its quest to meet increasing electricity demand. But, I can’t help but be disappointed. Only a decade ago, hydropower accounted for three times as much generation in the U.S. as non-hydro renewable sources (wind, solar, biomass, geothermal, landfill gas and municipal solid waste). What happened in such a short amount of time to change all that?

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), recent growth in wind and solar has been the primary driver. This growth reflects policies favorable to new development, as well as declining costs of technology.

For context, non-hydro renewable generation exceeded hydro generation for the first time in October 2012. This most recent trend, however, lasted from September 2013 to April 2014. Hydropower exceeded non-hydro renewables again in May 2014 (the most recent data available), but EIA projects that the overall trend in 2014 will be toward non-hydro renewables.

Hydropower capacity has only increased by slightly more than 1% over the past decade, EIA says. By 2040, EIA projects that non-hydro renewables will provide more than twice as much generation as hydropower. Assuming the continuation of tax credits or other policies that support non-hydro renewables, their overall generation and share relative to hydropower will be much higher, EIA predicts.

Now, by no means is hydro being ignored. In recent months, there’s been lots of talk about developing the untapped potential in the U.S. Examples:

— January 2014: the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers identified 419 potential locations for hydro development at its non-powered dams, with a cumulative capacity of 6,256 MW.

— April 2014: the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and its Oak Ridge National Laboratory estimated as much as 65,000 MW of new hydropower capacity could be developed across more than 3 million American rivers and streams.

— April 2014: DOE http://www.hydroworld.com/articles/2014/04/doe-unveils-ambitious-plan-for-long-term-hydroelectric-power-development.html“>unveiled its Hydropower Vision plan, a landmark vision that will establish the analytical basis for an ambitious roadmap to usher in a new era of growth in sustainable domestic hydropower over the next half century.

— April 2014: Speaking at the National Hydropower Association annual conference, Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz said, “Hydropower can double its contributions by the year 2030.”

With considerable interest in developing new hydro in the U.S., what is hindering this vision? Is it negative public opinion that’s keeping hydro from getting built? No. A recent study by NHA shows:

  • 78% of voters say hydropower is cleaner than current forms of energy
  • 77% say hydro is environmentally friendly
  • 74% say hydro is reliable

Voters also favor work to both maintain existing plants and expand hydropower generation in the U.S. To support this work:

  • 77% favor reinvesting in federal hydropower facilities and investing in hydro R&D
  • 74% favor providing credits and incentives similar to other renewables
  • 69% favor reducing relicensing and retrofitting times

Speaking of these credits and incentives other renewables receive, why does it seem that hydropower is getting the short end of the stick? Sure, there ARE hydro-favorable policies being passed, and there are some incentives in place to encourage hydro development, but we all know more is needed.

Here’s where I make my big call to action: Let’s make some more noise about hydropower. A LOT of noise. We need to make sure our elected representatives understand that hydropower is renewable, reliable, sustainable and invaluable in supporting integration of those “other” renewables.

Start today. And don’t stop. Together, we can give hydropower a boost, I’m sure of it.

Managing Editor

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