Congressional panel examines opportunities for hydro

Witnesses told a congressional oversight hearing June 12 that many untapped opportunities remain to increase hydropower generation.

�There are assumptions in some quarters that hydropower in the Northwest is tapped out,� Washington State Sen. Bob Morton said. �However, this is false. There are many undeveloped sites for hydropower generation where capacity can be tapped, for example utilizing smaller turbine technology in tributary streams and by increasing the height of the present dams.�

Morton, a Republican, was among nine witnesses who testified before the House Subcommittee on Water and Power, chaired by Rep. Grace Napolitano, D-Calif. The panel explored the role of hydropower as a continued source of clean, renewable energy.

Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Robert Johnson said BuRec, operator of 58 hydropower plants in the western U.S., sees many opportunities for its hydropower program.

�The most obvious opportunity is to enhance or expand our power production capabilities to meet the increasing demands of our power customers,� Johnson said.

Clean Renewable Energy Bonds spur $60 million in hydro

Chief Executive Glenn English of the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, said 40 electric cooperatives are developing $430 million worth of renewable energy projects using the Clean Renewable Energy Bonds program created by the Energy Policy Act of 2005. (HNN 6/10/08)

�This project portfolio includes $60 million for new incremental hydropower projects,� he said.

English said the trade association consisting of nearly 1,000 electric cooperatives urges Congress and future administrations to maximize the reliability and efficiency of existing federal hydropower assets and to expand existing federal hydro facilities.

Executive Director Scott Corwin of the Public Power Council trade association, noted the Electric Power Research Institute estimated potential new hydropower generation could total 23,000 MW by 2025, with as much as four times that remaining undeveloped. (HNN 4/16/08)

�In the Northwest, we will be looking for opportunities whenever possible,� Corwin said. �Some of those efforts may involve projects on a very small scale such as irrigation drops. Some are needed enhancements at the larger projects.”

Potential seen for incremental, ocean, kinetic hydro

Bruce Howard, director of environmental affairs at hydro utility Avista Corp., said opportunities for building large, new conventional hydropower projects are limited. However, he said, there is significant potential to add generating capacity at existing hydropower projects and new generation to existing non-hydro dams.

�There are also opportunities for entirely new small hydropower facilities,� Howard said. �Moreover, substantial new hydropower resources are available from new and innovative hydrokinetic technologies that tap the energy of river, tidal, and ocean currents, without the installation of any dam or impoundment.�

Howard said the most important thing Congress can do now to spur additional hydro development at existing facilities is to secure a long-term extension of the federal production tax credit for incremental hydropower.

Based in part on the PTC credit of 0.9 cent per kWh, Avista has embarked on upgrades to its existing hydropower projects, adding a total of 7 MW, with about 36 MW more available from further upgrades. Because of the long lead times associated with replacing turbines, Howard said it is essential that Congress renew the PTC and the Clean Renewable Energy Bonds program for an extended period.

General Manager Tim Culbertson of Grant County Public Utility District, joined Howard in calling for congressional support of economic incentives for hydropower. Both also called for federal support of hydropower research and development, including $54 million for the Department of Energy’s hydropower R&D program for fiscal year 2009. (HNN 4/16/08)

Remaining opportunities: numerous, small, expensive

Melinda Eden, a member of the Northwest Power and Conservation Council, testified the Pacific Northwest has a long history of hydropower development. However, she expressed reservations about new development.

�With more than 360 hydroelectric dams in the Pacific Northwest, hydropower is by far the most important generating resource in the region,� Eden said. �However, hydropower is not the most important source of meeting future demand for power.”

Eden said most of the economically and environmentally feasible sites for hydropower generation have been developed.

“The remaining opportunities, though numerous, are for the most part small-scale and relatively expensive,� she said.

Richard Roos-Collins, director of legal services for the Natural Heritage Institute, said the future of hydropower depends on the continued willingness of the non-federal licensees and federal operators to generate electricity in a manner that protects and enhances other beneficial uses of the affected waters.

�In political terms, I mean simply that the industry, conservation community, and other stakeholders should work together, and systematically, to create the common future,� he said.

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