NHA conference produces a record turnout

Hydropower advocates meeting in Washington, D.C., for the National Hydropower Association’s 2010 Conference say a “historic” agreement between three federal agencies will be a powerful tool in helping the industry reach its goal of doubling hydropower production in the U.S.

“I don’t know what the right number is, but there’s no reason why we can’t achieve a huge lift in hydropower,” said Terrence C. “Rock” Salt, principal deputy assistant secretary of the Army, who provides policy oversight for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Salt was one of several keynote speakers during the three-day event, which drew more than 500 attendees, an all-time high.

The NHA conference, held April 26-28, comes after the U.S. Department of Energy, U.S. Department of Interior, and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) to promote the development of hydropower, the largest and most reliable source of renewable power. Under the agreement, the agencies agreed to work more closely and align priorities to support the development of environmentally sustainable hydropower.

“One of the reasons this MOU is historic is because it’s an action MOU,” said John Tubbs, deputy assistant secretary of the Department of Interior for water and science. “We need to achieve the goals the MOU set forth.”

Roger Ballentine, president of Green Strategies Inc., an environmental policy consulting firm, said the MOU represents a genuine effort by the federal government to boost hydropower capacity in the U.S. Such an agreement would not have been possible five years ago, Ballentine said.

“The MOU is a remarkable achievement,” he said. “I am just amazed about where we are today compared to where we were just a few years ago. It’s extraordinary.”

U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu, Ballentine said, is “completely committed to hydropower.”

Lori Caramanian, counselor to the assistant secretary of water and science at DOI, said getting the heads of three federal agencies and their lawyers to agree on the provisions in the MOU was a titanic undertaking.

“That was no small chore,” Caramanian said. “But we got it done and we’re really excited about moving forward.”

The potential to boost hydropower capacity at facilities owned and operated by the Bureau of Reclamation, an agency under DOI, is great, Caramanian said.

“We have over 500 dams. More importantly, we have thousands of miles of irrigation canals,” she said. “Of those 500 dams, 58 of them have federal hydropower on them and 71 are private hydropower leases. So there’s a lot we can do. We have irrigation canals that can be fitted with small turbines.”

NHA President Andrew Munro said hydropower is a firm, dispatchable form of renewable energy that can grow with the help of regulatory and legislative reforms designed to speed up the licensing process and boost the confidence of investors.

“The opportunity is right now for the hydropower industry,” Munro said. “Our benefits of clean power, job creation, and environmental quality line up perfectly with the priorities of our country.”

NHA will be releasing later this year specific recommendations for streamlining the licensing process for hydropower projects in the U.S. 

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