Senator Murkowski introduces bipartisan Hydropower Improvement Act of 2011

Energy and Natural Resources Committee ranking member Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, has introduced bipartisan legislation to accelerate the deployment of hydroelectric power projects across the country.

The Hydropower Improvement Act has nine original co-sponsors, including Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., and Washington Senator Maria Cantwell (D), making hydropower a major area of consensus on energy in the 112th Congress, the National Hydropower Association reported.

“It is now all too clear that America needs a consensus policy on energy that can help keep prices low, create jobs and ensure a safe supply of power,” Murkowski said. “Clean, safe and domestic hydropower can help us reach our shared clean energy goals. Our bill achieves common sense regulatory reform, spurs economic growth and takes advantage of hydropower’s position as the country’s leading source of clean, renewable energy.”

The National Hydropower Association said it applauds each original co-sponsor for their early support of this job-creating clean energy bill. In addition to Senators Murkowski, Bingaman and Cantwell, the list of co-sponsors includes: Mark Begich, D-Alaska, Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, Patty Murray, D-Wash., James Risch, R-Idaho, Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I. and Ron Wyden, D-Ore.

Senator Murkowski will be a special keynote guest speaker at the upcoming 2011 NHA Annual Conference in Washington, D.C. The three-day event is planned for April 4-6 at the Capital Hilton Hotel.

The Hydropower Improvement Act, NHA said, sets a dynamic hydropower agenda for the nation.

The bill will advance project deployment (from conduit and small hydro to non-powered dams to pumped storage) by requiring better interagency coordination; through funding of competitive grants for increased production; and with continued support for research and development activities.

“Hydropower has more multi-region and bipartisan support than any other clean energy technology. It is critical to our clean energy future that this legislation is passed as soon as possible,” said National Hydropower Association Executive Director Linda Church Ciocci. “Hydropower is already responsible for nearly seven percent of total U.S. electricity generation and two-thirds of our renewable electricity. This bill recognizes the vital role of hydropower as an affordable, reliable, available and sustainable domestic energy source.”

In addition to growing the domestic supply of clean energy, local job creation is a primary focus of the legislation. Already responsible for over 300,000 jobs, a recent study by Navigant Consulting, Inc. has shown that with the right policies, hydropower could create over 1.4 million cumulative direct, indirect and induced jobs by 2025.

“The Hydropower Improvement Act will bolster the positive economic and job creation benefits of hydropower projects, supply chain companies and low-cost hydroelectricity in all fifty states,” said NHA President Andrew Munro, also director of external affairs for Washington State’s Grant County PUD. “The U.S. hydropower industry supports President Obama’s goal of generating 80 percent of the nation’s electricity with clean energy sources by 2035. Hydropower will play a critical role in reaching that goal and this bill will help America get there sooner.”

Key provisions: Hydropower Improvement Act

Grant Program: Directs the Department of Energy (DOE) to establish a competitive grants program to support efficiency improvements or capacity additions at existing hydropower facilities; adding generation to non-powered dams; addressing aging infrastructure; conduit projects; environmental studies; and environmental mitigation measures.

Non-powered Dams and Pumped Storage: Directs the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to explore a potential two-year licensing process for hydropower development at existing non-powered dams and closed-loop pumped storage projects.

Conduit and Small Hydro: Allows for conduit projects on federal lands and directs FERC and other federal agencies to enter into a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to better coordinate reviews of these projects. Requires regional workshops to reduce barriers and investigate improvements to the regulatory process for small hydro and conduit projects.

Federal Hydropower Development: Requires the Departments of Energy and Interior and the Army Corps of Engineers to report to Congress on the implementation of the March 24, 2010, MOU on increasing federal hydropower development. Also directs FERC and the Bureau of Reclamation (Bureau) to complete a new MOU to improve the coordination and timeliness of non-federal hydropower development at Bureau projects.

• R&D Program: Requires DOE to develop and implement a plan to increase the nation’s use of hydropower through research, development and demonstration initiatives.

Studies: Directs DOE to study pumped storage project opportunities on federal and non-federal lands near existing or potential sites of intermittent renewable resource development, and a Department study of hydropower potential from existing conduits. Directs the Bureau of Reclamation to study barriers to non-federal development at Bureau projects.

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Senator Murkowski introduces bills to boost hydropower generation

U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, has introduced two pieces of legislation aimed at increasing the production of electricity from renewable hydropower and creating jobs in America’s energy sector. The “Hydropower Improvement Act” and the “Hydropower Renewable Energy Development Act” would boost federal support for hydropower projects.

The Hydropower Improvement Act, co-sponsored by Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash; Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash; and Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, aims to increase the capacity of our nation’s hydropower sources to generate clean, renewable electricity by up to 75,000 megawatts.

“Hydropower is one of our greatest untapped resources for generating clean, renewable electricity,” Murkowski said.

The legislation establishes a competitive grants program and directs the Department of Energy to produce and implement a plan for the research, development and demonstration of increased hydropower capacity. The bill also gives the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) authority to streamline the permitting and review process for hydropower projects, and calls for studies on pumped-storage sites and the potential for development at Bureau of Reclamation facilities.

National Hydropower Association Executive Director Linda Church Ciocci said: “NHA hopes that this bill also spurs additional consideration of hydropower in energy and climate policymaking. For example, Congress must provide continued long-term incentives for project development to create the stable investment environment developers need to expand America’s hydropower resources. NHA strongly supports this effort to maximize hydropower’s contribution in meeting the country’s energy, environmental and economic goals. We salute Sen. Murkowski and the bill’s co-sponsors for their work and stand ready to work with Congress, the White House and other stakeholders to ensure that hydropower is supported in any energy and or climate bill that moves forward.”

The Hydropower Renewable Energy Development Act classifies hydroelectric power generation as a “renewable” resource for federal program purposes. This bill provides parity treatment for hydro in the Production Tax Credit (PTC) and expands the types of hydro that can qualify for the PTC and Clean Renewable Energy Bonds (CREBS) program.

“As the Senate turns its attention to energy legislation, I hope we can finally recognize the important contribution hydropower, as a truly renewable resource, can provide to our clean energy goals,” Murkowski said.

Hydropower is the largest source of renewable electricity in the United States, providing 7 percent of the nation’s power. In Alaska, hydro supplies 24 percent of the state’s electricity needs, and there are more than 200 additional sites that look promising for further hydropower development.

The U.S. Department of Energy, Department of the Interior and Army Corps of Engineers recently signed a memorandum of understanding to promote the development of hydropower.

Included in the MOU are the goals of identifying future sustainable hydropower generation sites, upgrading existing hydro projects and promoting new hydropower technologies while increasing cooperation among agencies. The MOU also calls for an increased emphasis on environmentally-friendly hydropower production practices.

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