Hydropower bills hit Obama's desk

One measure (H.R. 267, S. 545), the Hydropower Regulatory Efficiency Act, excludes "conduits," such as canals and tunnels, from a federal licensing process. It also extends an exemption to that process to small hydropower projects that generate up to 10,000 kilowatts of power, up from the original 5,000 kilowatt cap.

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The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission is also required to study the impacts of imposing a two-year permitting deadline for hydropower projects. Its backers say that could unleash investment, with the National Hydropower Association suggesting quicker licensing could facilitate about 60,000 megawatts of new hydropower by 2025.

The other bill (H.R. 678, S. 306) the Senate passed Thursday would enable small hydropower projects at Bureau of Reclamation-owned waterways such as aqueducts and canals. Its boosters say the provision would unlock enough electricity to power 30,000 homes.

“There’s no better evidence that hydro is back than these two bills passing the Senate on a unanimous vote. 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,” Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) said in a statement.

Both bills cleared the Senate by unanimous consent. The Hydropower Regulatory Efficiency Act, co-sponsored by Reps. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.) and Diana DeGette (D-Colo.), cleared the House unanimously in February. The other bill, sponsored by Rep. Scott Tipton (R-Colo.), passed the lower chamber by a 416-7 vote.