Colorado Senate approves bipartisan small hydropower bill

A bipartisan bill that could aid the development of small hydropower in Colorado has been approved by the state’s Senate.

The legislation — officially HB14-1030 — streamlines state environmental review for small hydroelectric projects without weakening or changing any underlying state environmental requirements, according to the Colorado Small Hydro Association (COSHA).

Instead, the bill directs the Colorado Energy Office to facilitate project review by state agencies in a timely manner commensurate with federal agency timelines, making it possible for an applicant to simultaneously clear both federal and state reviews as quickly as 60 days for “non-controversial” projects.

The bill also streamlines the electrical inspection process by citing National Electrical Code (NEC) standards that electricians should be guided by when installing small hydro. According to COSHA, electrical inspectors will now determine if a project meets NEC standards for safety, quality and code compliance.

HB14-1030 mirrors legislation passed at the federal level in August 2013, which included the Hydropower Regulatory Efficiency Act and the Bureau of Reclamation Small Conduit Hydropower Development and Rural Jobs Act.

“Last summer federal permitting requirements for small hydro were streamlined thanks to Colorado legislators in Congress,” said COSHA President Kurt Johnson. “Now thanks to leadership from Colorado legislators in Denver, similar streamlining legislation has been approved in Colorado. Congratulations and thanks to the sponsors of HB14-1030 for their leadership on this reform legislation which will serve as a model for other states nationwide.”

HB14-1030 came out of an October meeting of Colorado’s Water Resources Review Committee hearing led by Sen. Gail Schwartz.

The bill was the introduced to the House by Reps. Diane Mitsch Bush and Don Coram, ultimately appearing before the House Transportation and Energy Committee and passing to the Senate in February.

“It has been a pleasure working with the Colorado Small Hydro Association on this legislation for rural Colorado,” Schwartz said. “HB14-1030 cuts red tape for small hydro development, helping to accelerate development of new small hydro installations and job creation.

“It’s a great example of Colorado common sense.”

The bill now awaits a signature from Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper.

COSHA estimates that Colorado has the potential for about 100 MW of new hydropower development, equating to approximately 500 jobs.

Additionally, the Colorado Department of Agriculture recently announced the results from an agricultural hydropower assessment that was used to identify the state’s most cost-effective agricultural opportunities.

The report highlighted pressurized irrigation as the most cost-effective near-term opportunity for hydropower development with up to 30 MW of potential identified.

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Michael Harris formerly was Editor for HydroWorld.com.

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