UPDATE – Congress appropriates $10 million for DOE hydro R&D program

The Senate and House have approved an omnibus appropriations bill to fund the government through next September, including $10 million to restart the U.S. Department of Energy’s dormant hydropower research and development program.

The bill supports the department’s advanced hydropower turbine program and directs funds to explore the energy and environmental benefits of deploying new hydropower technologies. The DOE Hydropower Program, now called the Water Power Energy R&D Program, will use the funds to conduct research on conventional hydropower and innovative hydropower technologies, such as thermal and wave technologies, for ocean, tidal, and in-stream generation.

For several years, the DOE hydro program received zero funding. The National Hydropower Association, an advocate for new and increased levels of funding for the DOE program, called the renewed funding a major victory for the hydro industry and for the continued growth of renewable domestic energy in the U.S.

�Congress has taken a great step forward this week by funding and therefore re-energizing the DOE hydropower program,� NHA Executive Director Linda Church Ciocci said. �With the growing emphasis on expanding domestic alternative energy resources to meet climate change goals, it is vital that the country’s leading renewable energy resource receives federal funding.�

The House passed the omnibus appropriations bill Dec. 17 on a vote of 253-154. The Senate held two votes the evening of Dec. 18 on the House-passed bill, including a 76-17 vote on language that mirrors the House version. In the other vote, the Senate approved more Iraq war funding than had been provided by the House. The Senate language then was merged into the bill and approved by the House, 272-142, Dec. 19.

The bill was being sent to the president, who could sign it by the end of the week. The White House had threatened to veto the bill if the Iraq money was not included.

The omnibus bill makes appropriations for government programs for the fiscal year ending Sept. 30, 2008.

Earlier this year, the Senate Appropriations Committee recommended that Congress allocate $10 million to reinstate the DOE hydropower R&D program and to create a new R&D program for hydrokinetic energy. The House Appropriations Committee recommended Congress allocate $22 million to DOE for R&D of hydropower and its emerging technologies, including ocean, tidal, and in-stream hydrokinetic systems. (HNN 7/12/07)

Bush signs abbreviated energy bill with ocean, hydrokinetic R&D

On Dec. 19, President Bush signed the national energy bill just passed by Congress. The new law mandates increased auto fuel efficiency, greater ethanol production, and reduced household energy use, but does little to help the hydropower industry.

The bill does contain a marine and hydrokinetic renewable energy title that authorizes a federal research and development program for ocean, tidal, and in-stream hydrokinetic technologies. (HNN 12/14/07)

The title also includes research into water conduit power applications and ocean thermal energy conversion devices. It also establishes ocean energy research centers to test equipment and support demonstration projects.

To activate the program, Congress must pass appropriations in coming years.

Next year: Production tax credits, renewables bonds, portfolio standard

The House easily cleared the final version of the energy bill, 314-100, on Dec. 18. But to win the backing of Bush and many Republican lawmakers, Democratic Senate leaders dropped a renewables portfolio standard that would have required utilities to generate 15 percent of their electricity from renewable energy sources such as wind, solar, ocean, hydrokinetic, and incremental hydropower sources.

Also dropped were provisions that would have imposed about $13 billion in taxes on oil and gas companies. As a result, the bill did not contain enough revenue to finance extension of production tax credits for renewable energy projects or Clean Renewable Energy Bonds — both programs of benefit to hydropower and ocean power developers and operators. Therefore, those provisions also had to be removed from the bill. (HNN 12/13/07)

Senate Energy Committee Chairman Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., said he hopes the next session of Congress will reconsider both the renewables tax incentives and the national renewables portfolio standard. The National Hydropower Association said it would work with congressional leaders next year in an effort to renew the tax benefits before they expire at the end of 2008.
Adding House final approval.

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