U.S. House refers legislation to terminate EPA to committee
A bill that would eliminate the Environmental Protection Agency was introduced to the U.S. House of Representatives and passed to committee for consideration in early February. House Resolution 861 was introduced by Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), alongside Republicans from Mississippi, Georgia and Kentucky.
The text of the bill had not been posted to the congressional website as of Feb. 8. Emails and social media posts from the co-sponsors indicate EPA’s dissolution would give environmental oversight authority to the states. The change would, according to the representatives, stimulate small business growth. Eliminating EPA would also potentially elminate the Clean Power Plan.
H.R. 861 is the latest federal move under the Trump Administration to limit or eliminate EPA’s authority. Trump’s appointment of Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt to head EPA has been viewed as an effort to kill the agency from within.
In related news, President Donald Trump issued orders Jan. 23 that have frozen all EPA grants and contracts, putting on hold the billions awarded annually by EPA for research and development, land restoration and enhancement, and environmental monitoring.
Sources within EPA say they are unsure whether the freeze is temporary or indefinite, although it would seem likely that it will be in place at least until the Senate completes Pruitt’s confirmation.
Legislative update: Virginia, Oregon, Hawaii
Several recent state bills relating to hydroelectric power have moved forward. Below is an update:
In Virginia, Governor Terry McAuliffe is expected to sign HB 1760, a bill that authorizes investor-owned electric utilities to petition the State Corporation Commission for approval of a rate adjustment clause for recovery of the costs of pumped storage and storage hydro facilities that use renewable energy as all or a portion of their power source.
In Oregon, HB 2136 creates a schedule by which a certain percentage of electricity sold by an electric company to retail electricity consumers must be generated by qualifying small-scale renewable energy projects, including hydropower. Public opinions on the bill were heard in early February.
And in Hawaii, HB 635 has been introduced, which would allocate up to $6.4 million in special purpose revenue bonds to the Honolulu Board of Water Supply and Hawaiian Electric Co. THe money would be used to upgrade Nuuanu Dam No. 4, allowing it to serve as part of a proposed pumped-storage facility.
PG&E will not relicense 26.4-MW DeSabla-Centerville
Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) will withdraw its application for a new Federal Energy Regulatory Commission operating license for its 26.4-MW DeSabla-Centerville facility in mid-February and request FERC initiate its “orphan project” process. This would allow for other qualified entities to apply for a license to operate the facility in the future, which PG&E says it supports.
“PG&E recognizes the importance of the DeSabla-Centerville facility to the local communities, including its role in supporting environmental resources, meeting the needs of farms and other water users, and providing public recreation,” says Debbie Powell, senior director of power generation operations at PG&E.
PG&E says DeSabla-Centerville, on Butte Creek in California, is no longer economically viable for its customers, due to renewable energy markets becoming increasingly more competitive, customer demand from PG&E declining due to customer-owned solar and community choice aggregation programs, and increasingly costly regulatory requirements to operate the hydroelectric facility.
DeSabla-Centerville includes the DeSabla, Toadtown and Centerville powerhouses, three reservoirs, and canals and flumes.
Two bills introduced to expand hydropower in Alaska
U.S. Senators Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan have introduced two bills designed to expand hydroelectric power in Alaska:
- S. 214 authorizes expansion of the 33.5-MW Terror Lake project near Kodiak, allowing Kodiak and the largest Coast Guard base in the U.S. to continue to receive reliable, emissions-free energy
- S. 215 authorizes a stay of the license for the 9.6-MW Mahoney Lake project near Ketchikan, allowing the Southeast Alaska Power Agency to consider this renewable project for up to 10 additional years
“My top priority as chairman of the Energy Committee is to deliver for Alaska,” Murkowski said. “These bills will boost hydropower projects to help provide clean, reliable, and affordable electricity to our communities.” She said these measures, along with two others introduced last week, “were in the conference report for our broad, bipartisan energy bill last year, and I’m optimistic we will be able to see them signed into law in this new Congress.”
The measures were referred to the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources after their introduction.
Reclamation to apply for Clean Water Act permit for Grand Coulee Dam
The U.S. Department of Interior’s Bureau of Reclamation will apply for a Clean Water Act Section 402 permit for its Grand Coulee Dam and 6,809-MW hydropower facility as part of a proposed settlement agreement reached Jan. 19 with Columbia Riverkeepers.
According to data HydroWorld.com received after an inquiry to the U.S. Department of Justice, Columbia Riverkeeper alleged that Reclamation is operating Grand Coulee Dam in violation of CWA section 301, 33 U.S.C. § 1311. The plaintiff alleges the dam is discharging oil, grease and other pollutants into the Columbia River without a permit required under CWA section 402, 33 U.S.C. § 1342.
Reclamation will apply for a section 402 permit, provide notifications to Columbia Riverkeeper, and undertake measures to reduce or account for potential pollution from the dam:
- Within 18 months, assess whether it is feasible to switch from using dam components that require lubrication to non-lubricated components, as well as switch from using current lubricants to “environmentally acceptable lubricants” on certain equipment.
- Prepare a report that addresses the feasibility of those changes and, if it would be feasible to make the changes within five years during regularly scheduled maintenance, prepare a projected schedule for completing the changes.
Bay resigns from FERC after LaFleur named chair
Commissioner Norman Bay announced his resignation from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission hours after President Donald Trump named Cheryl LaFleur acting chairwoman, leaving the agency with just two sitting members.
via a letter submitted to FERC Jan. 26. Bay’s resignation is effective Feb. 3, or 16 months before his term was to end.
His absence leaves LaFleur and Commissioner Colette Honorable and puts an urgency on the White House to fill the third position necessary for a quorum. Federal law dictates at least three of the commission’s five spots must be filled for FERC to make substantive orders, initiatives and regulations. The lack of a quorum also halts FERC’s ability to resolve pending proceedings and conduct other business.
No more than three of FERC’s commissioners can be of the same political party.
Other staff changes later announced by LaFleur include Max Mizner leaving, David Morenoff named General Counsel, Ann Miles retiring (previously announced), Terry Turpin replacing Miles as director of the Office of Energy Projects, John Wood replacing Turpin Acting Deputy Director of OEP, Jamie Simler returning to Office of Energy Market Regulation, and Steven Wellner named Acting Chief of Staff.
Document hints at hydro’s role in Trump’s energy plan
A document leaked by the McClatchy media group in late January could offer clues about the role the Trump Administration envisions for hydroelectric power. “Emergency & National Security Projects” lists 50 national infrastructure priorities ,compiled for the National Governors Association while Donald Trump was President-elect. Several provisions have potential ties to dams and hydro:
No. 11: South Carolina Dams Accelerated Repairs. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers would use up to $850 million in federal funding for repair and safety improvement work at more than 600 South Carolina dams. These high or significant hazard dams are among those damaged during a thousand-year rainfall in 2015 and again in 2016 during Hurricane Matthew.
No. 12: Hydroelectric Plants Operated by the Corps. The Corps generates $5 billion annually from the hydro projects it owns and operates, the document says, while operating nearly 20% below the industry average of 99% efficiency. Section 12 allocates $4 billion to upgrade and replace decades-old generating equipment.
No. 21: Champlain Hudson Power Express. Blackstone Group would receive $2.2 billion for the Champlain Hudson Power Express transmission line. The link would connect southern Canada to the New York City area, allowing for the import of up to 1,000 MW of hydroelectric power from Quebec.
No. 49: Energy Storage and Grid Modernization. Fearing blackouts, the “California Public Utilities Commission has mandated mitigation measures, including an expedited procurement for local energy storage sources,” the document says. The report does not mention specific storage sources.
Canadian court dismisses First Nations case against 1.1-GW Site C
Canada’s Federal Court of Appeal has dismissed a lawsuit that would have prevented work on British Columbia’s 1.1-GW Site C plant from advancing. A suit filed by the Prophet River and West Moberly First Nations alleged that Site C’s developer, BC Hydro, was infringing on treaty rights and that any decision should be made by the Governor-in-Council instead of a court.
Governor-in-Council appointees are selected by recommendation of the Queen’s Privy Council for Canada, and these appointees act as advisors and advocates in the legislative process.
A three-judge panel from the court argued, however, that the Governor-in-Council “does not possess any expertise and is not equipped to determine contested questions of law and complex factual issues,” and that it “cannot exercise adjudicative functions.” The court dismissed the claim, saying “a full discovery, examination of expert evidence, as well as historical testimonial and documentary evidence” should be used to determine whether treaty rights were violated.
Feds reject Idaho utility’s bid to negate Oregon fish law
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has rejected a request by Idaho Power to negate an Oregon law requiring fish passage as part of relicensing for the three-dam Hells Canyon Complex on the Snake River between Idaho and Oregon.
The filing said the Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution that has to do with federal authority over states pre-empts the Oregon law. But FERC said it found no reason why Oregon couldn’t require fish passage and reintroduction as part of relicensing. Idaho lawmakers have prohibited moving salmon and steelhead upstream of the three dams, leaving the relicensing in limbo.
Idaho Power’s 50-year operating license expired in 2005.