Hydroelectric project regulation and development bills await President Obama’s signature

A pair of hydroelectric power bills now await President Barack Obama’s signature after receiving unanimous approval from the U.S. Senate in the waning moments of the current Congressional session.

Included are the Hydropower Regulatory Efficiency Act (House Resolution 267) and the Bureau of Reclamation Small Conduit Hydropower Development and Rural Jobs Act (H.R. 678) — both of which would improve conditions for domestic hydropower development by streamlining the federal regulatory process for certain types of projects.

“The Senate has sent a strong and clear message about hydropower’s critical role in our nation’s diverse energy mix,” said Linda Church Ciocci, Executive Director of the National Hydropower Association. “NHA applauds the Senate for this decisive action and urges President Obama to quickly sign these bills into law.”

The Hydropower Regulatory Efficiency Act was introduced in January by Reps. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., and Diana DeGette, D-Colo. The House of Representatives advanced the bill quickly, passing it to the Senate with a unanimous 422-0 vote in favor in February.

“I commend my colleagues for unanimously passing these two bipartisan, widely-supported hydropower bills,” Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, said. “Hydropower, as the largest source of renewable generation in the United States, must continue to be a major part of our energy solution. These bills will help remove roadblocks and advance our country’s conventional and small conduit hydropower.”

The bill includes a number of provisions designed to streamline the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) permitting process for low-impact small hydro and close-loop pumped-storage projects.

Specifically, H.R.267 increases the small hydro exemption from 5 MW to 10 MW; removes conduit projects under 5 MW from FERC jurisdiction; increases conduit exemptions to 40 MW for all projects; provides FERC the ability to extend preliminary permits; and requires FERC examine a two-year licensing process for non-powered dams and closed-loop pumped-storage projects.

“There’s no better evidence that hydro is back than these two bills passing the Senate on a unanimous vote,” Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., said. “Capitalizing on the power potential of existing dams, pipes and conduits is the kind of practical thinking our country needs to generate more renewable energy and cut our carbon footprint.”

Meanwhile, the Bureau of Reclamation Small Conduit Hydropower Development and Rural Jobs Act authorizes small hydroelectric development at existing Reclamation-owned canals, pipelines, aqueducts, and other manmade waterways.

The bill, introduced to the House by Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Colo., also received strong bipartisan support, moving to the Senate on the back of a 416-7 vote in favor.

Once out of the House, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee unanimously approved both pieces of legislation in May.

“From the unanimous passage of these bills, it is clear that the development of more clean, affordable hydropower is a goal that lawmakers from both parties can get behind,” Ciocci said. “We look to build on these successes and will continue to work with policymakers on further improvements to the hydropower licensing process.”

According to the NHA, the enactment of H.R. 267, H.R. 678 and other policies could unlock as much as 60,000 MW of untapped hydropower potential, creating 1.4 million cumulative jobs.

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