Exciting Times for Hydro!

Today, there is abundant good news about hydropower. Increasingly, the values hydropower provides are receiving favorable attention from policymakers and the public at large.

Much of the credit for this situation is owed to high energy prices and to broader recognition of energy supply vulnerabilities. Also, the premier political issue of global warming (and greenhouse gases) has brought hydropower’s obvious potential as a solution to center stage. And, it’s not to be dismissed that sustained and increased advocacy by industry constituents is producing meaningful results.

James Carr of Canada’s Business Council of Manitoba captured the current enthusiasm when he declared that “Hydro is the hottest game in town. As a clean, renewable energy source, hydro is the future.” Certainly hydro can be expected to play a large role in Canada’s plans to significantly reduce its future greenhouse gas emissions.

Constructive action favoring hydro is taking place on a variety of fronts:

U.S. Congress

There’s positive movement on bills that would extend production tax credits (PTCs) and clean renewable energy bonds (CREBs) — incentives put in place by the Energy Policy Act of 2005. Efforts are under way toward extending the length of time that these incentives would be applicable and, in addition, toward broadening the definitions for the types of hydro facilities to which they would apply.

In addition, efforts are being pursued to restore, and significantly expand, a hydro research and development program within the Department of Energy (DOE). DOE’s program was zeroed out for fiscal year 2007.

Local renewable energy initiatives

Programs are bringing support for hydro closer to home. Examples include:

  • A New York program, aimed at meeting the state’s renewable energy goals, will provide $295 million over ten years to 21 renewable energy projects, including ten hydros.
  • Minnesota-based utility Xcel Energy has pledged $23 million to support renewable energy research and development; hydro R&D projects are eligible to compete for these funds.
  • A “Clean Tech Open” competition in California seeks to advance clean technology companies. Innovators in renewable energy — including hydro, wave, and tidal power — can compete for cash and other awards.

Ocean, tidal, and kinetic energy technologies

Many are predicting that the new ocean/tidal/kinetic hydro industry segment will expand rapidly — following the example of wind power’s recent growth. Much media attention has been given to Verdant Power’s tidal power project installed in New York City. A plethora of additional projects are being pursued in British Columbia and in the states of Washington, Oregon, California, Florida, Alaska, Hawaii, and elsewhere. [Let’s not forget: A 20-MW tidal power plant has been operating on the Bay of Fundy in Nova Scotia since 1984!]

New projects

Many new projects, both conventional hydro and pumped storage, are moving through various stages
of development. In our news reporting activities in HydroNews.net and Hydro Review, we’re continually reporting on the progress of projects across the U.S. and Canada. In recent months, we’ve reported on projects being pursued that could add thousands of megawatts to the grid in both the U.S. and Canada. And, the state of Alaska is taking stock of the prospects for building a transmission link to British Columbia. This link would provide a path for exporting electricity — from new hydro projects that could be built in Alaska — into western Canada and the U.S.’s Pacific Northwest.

This newfound attention is good for hydro. It makes sense. After all, hydropower is clean, renewable, and domestic. And the fuel is free.


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