Bipartisan support moves hydropower bill

“The first five bills before us today show that we can work together on a shared priority,” Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) said of the package of bills the committee considered, which included the hydropower measure.

Ranking member Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) added that the bill “produces a balanced, bipartisan approach.”

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The bill, co-sponsored by Reps. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.) and Diana DeGette (D-Colo.), is based on a version that passed the full House unanimously in July.

The Senate did not move its iteration out of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee last year. Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), the committee’s ranking member, said the bill fell by the wayside during the final weeks of the 112th Congress.

But the item could get more attention with Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) at the helm of the committee, as he represents a state awash in potential hydropower.

Supporters of the House bill say the licensing changes are necessary. They contend the process is open-ended, with projects waiting in the pipeline for several years.

The permitting timetable in the House bill would apply to projects at non-powered dams. Construction of a hydropower-based energy storage technology known as closed-loop pumped storage also would benefit from the cap.

The National Hydropower Association (NHA) said that expediting licensing at the nation’s nearly 80,000 non-powered dams could add about 60,000 megawatts of hydropower by 2025.

“The National Hydropower Association is very pleased with the speed at which the Energy and Commerce Committee approved the Hydropower Regulatory Efficiency Act. It’s a common sense, bipartisan piece of legislation that will allow hydropower to contribute more to our nation’s energy needs and economic growth,” NHA Executive Director Linda Church Ciocci said in a Tuesday statement.

Renewable-energy advocates are getting behind the bill because it could facilitate more closed-loop pump storage. That technology would store energy from intermittent renewable sources, such as wind and solar, that utilities could dispense throughout the day.

The bill also would exempt “conduit” projects not specifically designed to produce power — such as canals, aqueducts and tunnels — from federal licensing procedures. It also would raise the licensing exclusion threshold for small hydropower projects to 10,000 kilowatts, up from 5,000 kilowatts.