U.S. stimulus bill seen stimulating hydro development

Renewable energy provisions of the new $787 billion economic stimulus law are seen by the U.S. hydropower industry as a key to bringing 90,000 MW of new, clean, renewable hydro on line by 2030.

President Obama signed the measure into law Feb. 17 as global markets plunged on fears the economic recession would deepen. Congress had passed the stimulus bill late Feb. 13, providing a lengthy list of tax incentives and spending programs, including financial incentives for the development of some hydropower and other renewable energy sources. (HNN 2/14/09)

�The stimulus bill includes a host of incentives long championed by NHA that will advance the industry’s effort to double current capacity and bring 90,000 MW of climate-friendly energy on line within the next generation,� a National Hydropower Association statement said.

Commissioner Jon Wellinghoff, now acting chairman, of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission last year challenged the U.S. hydro industry to develop at least 90,000 MW of new hydropower by 2030, calling projections of a possible 23,000 MW of new hydro by 2025 too conservative. (HNN 1/23/09)

NHA Executive Director Linda Church Ciocci said measures in the stimulus bill provide the industry with tools to begin creating new jobs and attracting investment in hydropower. She said tax policies and incentives in the bill will encourage investors to launch hydro projects that have a long lead time.

�By including incremental hydropower, hydro at non-powered dams, and new ocean, tidal, and in-stream hydrokinetic technologies in key (production) tax (credit) provisions, the act provides the stability investors and developers need to move forward on projects that increase our waterpower generation,� Church Ciocci said.

�Earlier measures, such as production tax credits, prompted an almost immediate industry-wide expansion in development of between 25 and 50 percent. So we’re very optimistic that these measures will have a similar effect on our industry now.�

Spurred by the earlier incentives, U.S. developers proposed hundreds of new or expanded hydro projects to FERC during 2008. FERC issued more than 240 preliminary permits during 2008, representing proposals to develop 15,460 MW — nearly five times the 50 permits issued for all of 2007. (HNN 1/21/09)

�Funding for federal research projects, public-private partnerships, and improvements to U.S. Army Corps of Engineers hydro facilities will offer two-fold benefit, as well,� the NHA official said. �We will be able to create jobs and economic activity within the hydro industry today, while laying a course that will lead us to new technologies, new investment, and more growth in the future.�

DOE promises faster renewables loan guarantees under stimulus act

Energy Secretary Steven Chu said Feb. 19 he hopes the Department of Energy can begin approving loan guarantees for renewable energy projects, authorized by the stimulus act, by early summer.

“We need to start this work in a matter of months, not years — while insisting on the highest standard of accountability,” Chu told an energy forum in Washington.

The stimulus package provides $6 billion in loan guarantees for clean energy and electricity transmission projects. Loan guarantees, already authorized by Congress several years ago for various types of energy, should begin to be approved by late April or early May.

DOE called for applications by Feb. 26 for $10 billion in loan guarantees for projects involving renewable energy, including some hydropower. (HNN 11/4/08) The agency said it would consider new or improved technologies that could include some forms of hydropower.

Under the department’s loan guarantee program, DOE pledges to repay a loan made by a financial institution for a renewable energy project if the project’s operator defaults on the loan.

Chu said he plans to disburse 70 percent of the funds allocated to the department in the stimulus package by the end of 2010.

Attention turns to grid expansion to ship renewables to market

Part of the stimulus bill also is aimed at upgrading and expanding the electricity transmission system, making it easier to deliver renewable energy from remote areas to load centers.

Stimulus language includes loan guarantees for transmission projects, $11 billion for �smart grid� technology to improve efficiency, and increases in borrowing authority of federal power marketing administrations to expand transmission.

Bonneville Power Administration announced Feb. 19 it will use some of the $3.25 billion in new borrowing authority it was awarded in the stimulus package to build a 75-mile transmission line to carry 870 MW, including 700 MW of new wind energy, between substations of 980-MW McNary Dam and 2,160-MW John Day Dam on the Columbia River.

Senate to consider renewable energy, grid improvement

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said he plans to introduce legislation Feb. 26 to advance development of a grid that can deliver renewable energy from remote locations to urban populations. Reid’s bill would require the president to designate areas that have the potential to produce significant amounts of clean energy. Grid planning then would begin in those areas.

Senate Energy Committee Chairman Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., said he hopes to have a bill on the Senate floor in four to six weeks that would deal with energy efficiency and renewable energy generation. He has begun hearings on renewables portfolio legislation that would require utilities to produce a portion of their electricity from clean energy sources. (HNN 2/11/09)

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