Perspectives: How America Will Double Its Water Power Resources

Guest Editorial — By Andrew Munro

Andrew Munro is 2009-2010 president of the National Hydropower Association

We in the hydropower industry are experts at turning the potential energy of water into a limitless resource of possibility. From electrifying the South and West almost a century ago to feeding the server farms that propel us into the future, hydropower has led the way with clean, abundant, affordable, and reliable electricity.

Now we need to turn this extraordinary capability to power — and empower — our own industry. The U.S. hydropower industry represents an enormous store of “potential energy,” with resources that can offer new energy generation, environmental benefits, and economic growth. It’s our challenge to turn this potential into a flow of real benefits that serve our country’s energy, environmental, and economic priorities.

As I take on the role of president of the National Hydropower Association (NHA), I plan to make the industry’s challenge my challenge. I believe we’re standing at a critical juncture, where the hydropower industry’s benefits align with our country’s most pressing needs. We must take bold action now to explore and develop these opportunities.

During my term as NHA president, I’d like us to focus on these goals:

  1. Double the total megawatts of new hydropower projects before the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) by 2012.
  2. Double jobs in the hydropower industry by 2012.
  3. Double U.S. hydropower capacity by 2030.


Sound ambitious? You bet. But, we’re an industry that meets challenges. After all, how many other industries can say that during the Great Depression, they created jobs, improved quality of life, and established resources that still serve our country today?

In fact, I’d argue that the industry enjoys more opportunity than ever before. We’re seeing Congress and the administration recognize the industry’s potential by providing more investment incentives and research and development support. We’re finding growing collaboration with environmental organizations, which recognize the clean-energy benefits of many hydro projects. And, we’re playing a significant role in energy, climate, and economic policy debates at all levels.

I want to leverage this momentum to reach our goals. For example, consider how production tax credits (PTC) prompted a 20 to 50 percent increase in hydropower development work in just their first year alone. With the PTCs now in place through 2013 — and bolstered by options for investment tax credits, federal investment grants, clean renewable energy bonds, and other tax incentives — doubling the megawatts of new hydropower projects by 2012 is within our reach.

The industry’s job growth is poised to move the same way. Think about NHA member Hydro Green Energy (HGE), a small entrepreneurial company that, just a few years ago, began an effort to commercialize hydrokinetic technology. Today, HGE holds the first commercial hydrokinetic license, and its work has spurred creation of nearly 100 jobs around the country. Leaders like HGE make doubling industry jobs in three years seem easy.

With new applications in the pipeline and a growing industry, doubling U.S. hydropower capacity is within our sights, too. We already have a good head-start on this: Right now, FERC is considering more than 34,000 MW of new projects, which would represent a 35 percent increase in hydropower capacity. As new incentives prompt additional development, I see this number skyrocketing.

We’ll also be feeling a strong push from other industries to expand our resources. In order to meet a national goal of securing 20 percent of our electricity from renewable sources by 2030 (not including the 7 percent we already have from hydro), we will need to integrate 300 GW of wind energy. The U.S. Department of Energy estimates that it will take 50 GW of peaking generation or storage to firm or integrate this large, variable resource. That means hydropower and pumped storage will be at the forefront of integrating wind and other variable technologies into the grid.

All these factors make me optimistic about the hydropower industry’s future. I believe these goals are realistic and reachable. I urge all of you to join me in working with NHA to make it happen.


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