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  • Senate panels told hydro vital to clean energy policy

    A Washington hydropower utility official addressed a closed-door meeting of U.S. Senate energy and environment committee members and staff, urging them to recognize that hydropower is an important renewable energy source in the debate on clean technologies.

    Staff of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee and the Environment and Public Works Committee organized the Nov. 16 meeting with White House officials and energy executives to discuss clean energy technologies. The roundtable featured three panels: the federal perspective, Wall Street, and Main Street.

    The final speaker, Laurel Heacock, hydro licensing and compliance manager for Grant County, Wash., Public Utility District, pointed out little had been said that day about hydropower. However, she said it is important to recognize hydropower as a large renewable energy resource, particularly in the Pacific Northwest.

    Heacock encouraged the committees to consider clean, emission-free, renewable hydropower technologies -- both existing and new -- as vital to meeting clean energy goals. She said hydropower is crucial to domestic energy independence, energy security, and the Northwest regional and national economies.

    She said public policies should include economic incentives for new development and a continued investment in hydropower research and development.

    �New and existing hydropower generation should both be recognized and supported as renewable on state and federal levels, and federal funding for hydropower research and development should continue,� Heacock said. �Currently, the hydropower research and development program is slated for termination with no funding proposed for fiscal year 2007.�

    As an example, she cited Grant County's 1,893-MW Priest Rapids project on the Columbia River (No. 2114). She outlined the potential for increased efficiency and output from advanced hydropower turbines that are being installed at the project's Wanapum Dam. (HNN 11/16/06) She noted Grant County was the first hydro licensee in the nation to install an advanced turbine developed with the support of the U.S. Department of Energy hydropower research and development program.

    Tremendous hydro potential, without new dams

    Heacock said domestic hydropower has tremendous growth potential, without the need to build new dams. She cited the potential for incremental hydro at existing facilities, development of power plants at non-power dams, and installation of other new hydro technologies, including ocean-based generators.

    She also addressed a need to extend the production tax credit for hydropower. Several projects have taken advantage of the 0.9-cent-per-kWh tax credit, which requires qualified projects to meet an in-service deadline of Jan. 1, 2008. (HNN 11/17/06) The National Hydropower Association previously has said the credit should be extended through at least 2010 for licensees to make better use of it. (HNN 5/16/06)

    Officials from investment firm Goldman Sachs pressed committee members and staff to extend production tax credits for hydro and other renewable energy sources that are expiring. One source attending the meeting said alternative energy incentives might be added to farm funding measures or advanced as free-standing legislation.

    �Really what everybody is looking for is certainty,� said Ken Connolly, minority staff director for Environment and Public Works.

    A Republican aide on the Senate Energy Committee said the meeting was scheduled well before Democrats won control of Congress, and said no policy changes were likely to emerge.

    �This is simply a discussion on how to move clean energy technologies to the marketplace faster,� Marnie Funk said before the meeting. �We know of no other agenda.�

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