Going medieval for hydropower

To the unitard-clad harlequin in Larkspur, Colo. — I must apologize.

You see, I wasn’t laughing at you.

Well. Maybe I should clarify.

I mean, I was laughing at you while you were doing somersaults, juggling flaming clubs and doing all the other things befitting a jester of the Good King Henry’s court… but I wasn’t laughing at you when you saw me looking curiously at the Colorado Renaissance Festival’s massive waterwheel and asked if I was aware that water has many uses aside from drinking and bathing.

You couldn’t possibly have known that my presence at the renaissance fair (or is it faire?) was entirely predicated by my desire to kill the afternoon preceding the world’s largest gathering of hydroelectric industry professionals.

So, if a few errant giggles escaped when you very proudly boasted that water could be used to power everything from iron forges to gristmills to weaving looms, I’m sorry.

Knowing my purpose in Colorado was for HydroVision International 2013, however, perhaps now you understand my suggestion that water might also be powering the deep-fryers used to cook Ye Olde Funnel Cakes, the refrigerators used to cool Ye Olde Coors Lite, and the ovens used to roast gigantic Ye Olde Turkey Legs.

That water has been an important an important source of energy from times of Greek antiquity through the Dark Ages, Renaissance, Industrial Revolution, Space Age and beyond is more than a slight testament to its continued value and relevancy.

And now if you’ll excuse the sort of awkward transition that would make my journalism professors cringe, allow me to segue into the second part of today’s blog entry.

I’m assuming most have heard the good news out of Washington, D.C.

If not, take a quick gander over here, pop a bottle of your finest mead, and come back when you’ve finished celebrating.

To recap though — the U.S. Senate has unanimously approved both the Hydropower Regulatory Efficiency Act (House Resolution 267) and the Bureau of Reclamation Small Conduit Hydropower Development and Rural Jobs Act (H.R. 678).

Each piece of legislation is designed to improve conditions for domestic hydroelectric development by streamlining the federal regulatory process for certain types of projects, and each should be considered a major coup for the hydropower industry.

Both H.R. 267 and 678 were significant points of emphasis during HydroVision International, though neither had yet come up for Senate voting.

In fact, when discussing the likelihood of either bill appearing before the Senate in the days preceding the five-week Congressional recess that began July 26, I was told by many in the Capitol Hill loop that the odds were not favorable.

Accordingly, the message that was repeated from Alan Krause’s remarks in the opening keynote to Gary Hart’s speech during the closing luncheon was consistent — the hydropower industry must be proactive in promoting its many virtues in national discussions about renewable commodities.

This is particularly significant given President Barack Obama’s recently released Climate Action Plan, which emphasizes the importance of all forms of renewable power generation in decreasing the nation’s carbon emissions.

When coupled with federal legislation like H.R. 267 and H.R. 678 then, I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say hydropower has never been poised to play a more significant role in America’s energy mix than it is now.

And even though the passage of H.R. 267 and 678 is a testament to years of diligence by more people I can even begin to name, it by no means marks the end of the proverbial journey.

The message delivered time and time again at HydroVision still rings true, however — that the hydropower industry must be proactive in promoting its many virtues in national discussions about renewable commodities.

Now more than ever, the onus falls on the industry to ensure America’s politicians, power generators, and energy users don’t forget the role hydro power has played and continues to play.

I am continually surprised by the number of educated consumers who have a rudimentary knowledge of solar, wind, geothermal, biomass and other forms of renewable generation, yet know little — if anything — about hydro power.

Even amongst those familiar with hydro, the general perception seems to be that the vast majority of America’s projects have more in common with Grand Coulee than not, and many are genuinely surprised in learning such isn’t the reality.

Also surprising to many is the revelation that much of the infrastructure needed for significant amounts of hydroelectric development already exists, and that, according to the National Hydropower Association, this unused infrastructure could eventually add a cumulative 60,000 MW of new capacity to the nation’s grid.

Add in the fact much of this infrastructure falls under areas affected by H.R. 678 and many plant proposals might qualify for expedited licensing under H.R. 267, and suddenly, I’ve found many people from outside the industry start asking the same question we working in it have been asking for years: Why isn’t hydropower more of an emphasis?

If I might make a humble suggestion then, it would be that the industry needs to be more like the jester.

It isn’t enough that legislation exists for hydroelectric development if the industry isn’t doing its part to make decision makers aware of it, and now that America’s politicians have set the table for a hydropower boom, I will reiterate once more — the industry must be proactive in promoting its many virtues in national discussions about renewable commodities

Coming back full-circle to the spandex-wearing gentleman in Larkspur, engaging the general public must become more of a priority lest the bills that sit on President Obama’s desk be enacted for naught. 

Diamond-print leggings and frilled-shirts are, of course, optional — but for the good of the industry, the jester’s enthusiasm for sharing cannot be.

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Michael Harris formerly was Editor for HydroWorld.com.

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