Elected officials support the hydropower industry at HydroVision International 2013

Although those who work in the hydroelectric industry on a daily basis clearly understand the benefits of this clean, renewable generating technology, it still isn’t getting its just deserts when it comes to legislation. One example is the production tax credits currently available for the development of new renewable electricity generating facilities. Why do wind, geothermal and closed-loop biomass plants get 2.3 cents per kWh while hydro gets only 1.1 cent per kWh? The legislation was originally enacted in 1992 and has been renewed and expanded numerous times. Even so, the January 2013 legislation did not increase the amount paid to hydropower.

It is frustrating and hard to understand. Do our elected officials just not “get it” when it comes to hydropower? And why not?

Several of the speakers at HydroVision International 2013 in Denver this month really helped me wrap my mind around what is going on politically with regard to hydropower. And they provided a huge call to action for the entire hydroelectric industry that I want to pass on to all of you who were not in attendance and reinforce to those who were there.

Let’s start with Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper. He spoke to a packed house of HydroVision International 2013 attendees during the opening keynote session, and it was refreshing to hear that elected officials in the state of Colorado truly understand the value of hydropower and are eager to develop the untapped potential in the state. “Hydro is one of the cleanest, most cost-effective forms of electric generation that we have. And the technology is there to minimize the impacts,” he said.

Referring to Colorado at the Headwaters State, Hickenlooper said more than a dozen rivers start in Colorado and feed water to 18 other states and the country of Mexico. He said the state had new conventional hydro generation of 1,600 GWh in 2010 but also focused on untapped energy potential of more than 700 GWh per year. Hickenlooper indicated Colorado has the second highest renewable standard in the country right now but said hydro should be 30% of the state’s total renewable energy package.

Hickenlooper spoke about some of the many programs in the state designed to encourage hydro development, including the Colorado Energy Office’s small hydro permitting program and the Department of Agriculture’s Advancing Colorado’s Renewable Energy program. Despite these efforts, Hickenlooper indicated more work is needed. “Hydropower will require new forms of collaborative effort between state and local governments. [We need to find] more direct and efficient ways to overcome some of the red tape that has been there in the past. We really want to try and take some of the friction out of business, in other words, allow a more predictable environment so that people can go forward with projects more rapidly,” he said.

In the end, Hickenlooper is bullish on hydropower, and that is great to hear. Building on a joke about the opposite of woe being “giddyup,” the Governor said, “In terms of infrastructure, we don’t have the luxury any more of dillydallying around. We’ve got to figure out ways to work better. Every time somebody says that’s impossible, I always just say, ‘Giddyup.’”

Also during the opening keynote session, Kurt Johnson, president of the Colorado Small Hydro Association, read remarks provided by U.S. Congresswoman Diana DeGette of Colorado. She is co-sponsor, along with Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington State, of the Hydropower Regulatory Efficiency Act of 2013. This bill, which focuses on retrofitting existing infrastructure to generate new hydropower, was scored at “zero cost” by the Congressional Budget Office.

DeGette says the bill will create jobs: With the National Hydropower Association estimate of 5.3 jobs created per megawatt of new hydro construction and the potential 200 MW of new development in Colorado alone, DeGette says hydro development would yield about 1,000 new jobs in the state.

The bill is currently awaiting final passage on the Senate side, after unanimous approval by the Energy and Natural Resources Committee. Once the full Senate votes to pass the bill, it will be send to President Barack Obama to be signed into law. But, DeGette had a call to action to help get this passed: “So today, I’m asking all of you — who stand strong for the potential of hydropower in our nation — to reach out to your Senators and help us get this done.”

Gary Hart, former U.S. Senator from Colorado, spoke during the closing luncheon and awards program at HydroVision International 2013, and he closed out the event with a strong call to action for the entire hydropower industry.

With regard to how to call more attention to hydropower, he advocates speaking to fellow citizens for a start. “You have to educate people outside this room. If you were to go outside and stop 10 Coloradans, I would gauge that no more than one of them could discuss hydroelectricity with you in any meaningful way,” he said.

To achieve this goal of educating the general populace on the value of hydroelectricity, Hart had several suggestions: “Write letters to your newspaper. Even better, write opinion pieces to your newspaper. Also, speak to local organizations [such as the Chamber of Commerce and Kiwanis Club].” Hart stands behind what he says. On July 22, he wrote a letter to the editor of the New York Times reacting to an editorial praising removal of the Veazie Dam on the Penobscot River in Maine. The letter reminds readers of this newspaper that hydropower “is a clean, renewable energy source and, over time, less expensive than solar or wind.”

His final challenge was so well-put, I will convey it to you essentially word for word: “Finally, and this may be uncomfortable for you, call your elected officials and say you want to talk to them. [Include] Senators, members of Congress, maybe even state and city officials. Say ‘I want to take 20 minutes of your time to tell you about hydropower.’ We’ve got 80,000 dams in this country and 3% of them are producing energy. That’s got to change. And you can help make that change. Educate your elected officials. They need information from you, the citizens they represent. That’s the challenge I leave with you. If enough people do this in enough venues, you will be amazed at the degree to which the level of understanding of the business you are in will increase exponentially and you can help change public policy in this country and maybe other countries as well. We need clean, renewable energy. And that’s what hydropower is.”

To me, the take-home message from these three speakers is crystal clear: Tell people about hydropower. Be advocates for this industry you love. Don’t stop until your message is out there and people, both citizens and elected officials, recognize the value hydroelectricity has to offer to our nation and our world. If enough people do this, the tidal change will be something to see.

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