Hydropower bill sails through House

“H.R. 267 streamlines the hydropower permitting process, reducing the burdens impeding developments, and getting low cost power to communities faster,” bill co-sponsor Rep. Cathy McMorris RodgersCathy McMorris RodgersLatina lawmakers discuss efforts to increase representation CDC backtracks with new mask guidance CDC: Vaccinated people should now wear masks in high transmission areas MORE (R-Wash.) said in a Wednesday statement.

The National Hydropower Association estimates expedited licensing would charge some of the nation’s nearly 80,000 non-powered dams, adding about 60,000 megawatts of hydropower by 2025.

Currently, obtaining federal permission usually takes hydropower developers more than five years, Kevin Frank, chief executive with York, Pa.-based Voith Hydro, told The Hill. That length of time has sapped investor interest for capital-intensive hydropower projects, he said.

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“The shorter process brings more certainty and gets rid of the inefficiencies,” Frank said. “It’s a big, big barrier to entry right now.”

It’s a barrier that might not last much longer, if the bipartisan House vote is any indication of how the Senate might act.

Sen. Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiBill would honor Ginsburg, O'Connor with statues at Capitol The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - US gymnast wins all-around gold as Simone Biles cheers from the stands The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - A huge win for Biden, centrist senators MORE (R-Alaska), the ranking member on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, is bullish on the bill’s prospects.

Murkowski told The Hill that the bill’s chances of passing the committee are “good,” noting Chairman Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenDemocrats warn shrinking Biden's spending plan could backfire Democrats release data showing increase in 'mega-IRA' accounts Senate Democrats press administration on human rights abuses in Philippines MORE (D-Ore.) represents a state flush with hydropower potential.

While a similar bill also passed the House late last year and foundered in the Senate, Murkowski attributed the lack of action to the upper chamber “not taking up energy bills.” She said she is “optimistic” about the bill this time around.

Aside from the hydropower industry and the House, the bill also has support from the renewable energy advocates and some environmental groups.

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Renewables backers like the measure because it would cap the permitting timeline for closed-loop pump storage, potentially fostering more construction of those systems.

The technology stores energy from intermittent power sources, such as wind and solar, that utilities could use throughout the day.

And environmental groups, such as American Rivers, give the bill an OK because it would encourage smaller projects that avoid disturbing aquatic and other habitats.

To that end, Murkowski said she would work to inform her Senate colleagues that the dams affected by the hydropower bill are not the “mega-dams” that the environmental community opposes.

“There are some that kind of view hydropower through the lens of the Hoover Dam, Tennessee Valley Authority — that they’re these huge, that hydropower has to be a big mega-dam. Hydropower does not,” she said.