U.S. House passes hydropower energy policy with unanimous vote

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America's hydroelectric power sector received a boost as House Resolution 267, also known as the Hydropower Regulatory Efficiency Act of 2013, received a unanimous 422-0 vote of approval before the U.S. House of Representatives earlier today.

The legislation is essentially the same as H.R. 5892, which was a bipartisan energy policy designed to promote growth of mini hydro and in-conduit projects by streamlining the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) permitting process for low-impact proposals.

Specifically, the Hydropower Regulatory Act will:

  • Increase the small hydro exemption from 5 MW to 10 MW
  • Remove conduit projects under 5 MW from FERC jurisdiction
  • Increase the conduit exemption to 40 MW for all projects
  • Provide FERC the ability to extend preliminary permits
  • Require FERC to examine a two-year licensing process for non-powered dams and closed-loop pumped-storage

The bill received a unanimous 372-0 approval from the 112th Congress in July 2012, though it did not come to a Senate vote before the end of the past session.

It was reintroduced to the 113th Congress in mid-January by Reps. Diana DeGette, D-Colo., and Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., before passing the House Energy and Commerce Committee about a week later.

Its passage today in the House makes it the first piece legislation approved by the 113th Congress.

"[The National Hydropower Association] applauds today's passage of the Hydropower Regulatory Efficiency Act," NHA Executive Director Linda Church Ciocci said. "The unanimous vote demonstrates that policymakers view hydropower as a solution to the nation's energy challenges and believe we should expand its contributions to America's energy mix."

Hydropower's role in this energy mix was mentioned by President Barack Obama yesterday in his State of the Union address, who said he would urge his cabinet to "speed the transition to more sustainable sources of energy."

"Today, no area holds more promise than our investments in American energy," Obama said. "After years of talking about it, we're finally posted to control our own energy future."

According to the NHA, hydroelectric sources currently provide about two-thirds of the nation's renewable electricity with 100,000 MW of power installed coast-to-coast. Studies show, however, that an additional 60,000 MW of hydroelectric capacity and 1.4 million cumulative jobs could still be created with the right policies in place.

"Unleashing American ingenuity to increase hydropower production will lower energy costs and help create thousands of jobs," McMorris Rodgers said. "The future of American energy independence depends on the development of an 'all-of-the-above' energy approach, and I'm proud that hydro is finally on its way to being part of it."

The legislation must now pass the Senate and receive presidential approval.

"Though passing this legislation is an important step, we must complete the process," Voith Hydro President and CEO Kevin Frank said. "I urge the Senate to act on and the President to sign this legislation to increase the use of hydropower across the United States."

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