Public power urges Congress to fund federal hydro maintenance

American Public Power Association members passed a resolution Feb. 24 urging Congress to adequately fund the maintenance of Corps of Engineers and Bureau of Reclamation hydropower projects to ensure their maximum efficiency.

Meeting in an annual Legislative Rally in Washington, members of APPA’s Legislative and Resolutions Committee adopted 11 resolutions including the hydro funding language, support of an improved electricity transmission system, and support of a federal renewable electricity standard.

The public power organization said hydropower generated by Corps and BuRec multipurpose water resources projects is an important source of low-cost, clean electric energy and capacity for consumer-owned not-for-profit electric utilities.

�Unfortunately, the federal hydropower resource is growing old, and not gracefully,� the resolution said. �For example, of the 75 hydropower plants operated by the Corps, 33 are more than 50 years old, another 18 are more than 40 years old, and another 19 are more than 30 years old. Fifty percent of the Bureau dams were built between 1900 and 1950. The design life for even the most durable equipment in these powerhouses does not exceed 50 years.�

The resolution said congressional appropriations for maintenance, replacement, and rehabilitation of hydropower equipment have not kept pace with deterioration, with performance statistics suffering. It said the Corps’ goal of 98 percent peak availability of its hydro units had, in reality, fallen to 86 percent by fiscal year 2008. During the past nine years, the forced outage rate of Corps units has increased almost 158 percent. Data from BuRec for fiscal 2003 showed a range of availability between 80 and 85 percent.

Federal hydro rehab costs are repaid by public power utilities

�There is much work to be done, and the money is available without impacting the long-term federal deficit,� the resolution said. �All federal hydro appropriations are returned to the U.S. Treasury (including interest on capital investments) through the wholesale power rates paid by municipally owned electric utilities, local power authorities, and rural electric cooperatives for federal hydropower.�

The resolution said the Corps has a hydropower operations and maintenance backlog of about $350 million, plus another $1.56 billion in needed major rehabilitation of its power plants. BuRec has many hydro projects identified for funding and has reported a $1 billion backlog in various other water-related projects.

The APPA members said the federal government has an obligation to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and increased costs from fossil-fueled replacement power by maintaining the federal hydropower system at maximum efficiency.

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