Vermont agency urges steps to support new small hydro

The Vermont Agency of Natural Resources is urging state lawmakers to update an inventory of potential hydropower sites at existing non-hydro dams and to investigate additional opportunities to increase generation at existing hydropower projects.

Reviewing a 1980 New England River Basins Commission report, the agency said a total of 25 MW of new hydroelectric capacity could be added to 44 existing non-hydro dams in the state. However, in a 72-page report to the Legislature, VANR urged lawmakers to fund an updated study, which it called essential for identifying the best opportunities, both ecologically and economically, for new hydropower development.

The agency arrived at its own estimates by reviewing the 1980 New England commission report and updating it by excluding sites developed since 1980, as well as breached dams and former dam sites. VANR noted a 2006 U.S. Department of Energy report estimated Vermont has 434 MW of developable capacity at dammed and undammed sites of at least 10 kW each. (HNN 2/21/06) However, VANR said the DOE study only provided a theoretical maximum by including all possible sites.

The Jan. 9 report to the Legislature, �Development of Small Hydroelectric Projects in Vermont,� recommends lawmakers consider financing work by VANR, the Department of Public Service, and the Public Service Board to identify the most viable sites for small hydro development at existing dams.

The agency also said the Department of Public Service should work with Vermont utilities to investigate additional opportunities for increasing production at existing hydroelectric projects. It said further study is needed to determine the feasibility of increasing energy production without changing current operating requirements.

VANR also called for funding to create a comprehensive guide to small hydropower development, focusing on projects with installed capacities of up to 100 kW. The guide would provide information to help towns and individuals understand economic and environmental issues associated with small hydro projects, the regulatory system, and how to make preliminary assessments of a site’s economic viability.

The report said the state is addressing concerns about Vermont’s existing permitting process for small hydro projects, which the agency said has been harshly criticized and characterized as a major impediment to the development of small hydro. VANR also said the state’s new pre-feasibility assessment process available to project sponsors has been well received and provides potential developers a sense of a project’s environmental feasibility early in the process.

The report is available on the agency’s Dam Safety and Hydrology Section Internet site, www.anr.state.vt.us/dec/fed/dss.htm, under �Small hydropower report.� The Internet address of the report is: www.anr.state.vt.us/dec/fed/damsafety/docs/smallhydroreport.pdf.

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