More than 500 attendees at the National Hydropower Association Annual Conference roared to their feet as Sen. Ron Wyden and Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers took to the podium during the event's opening session earlier today.
Speaking primarily about several pieces of legislation designed to improve conditions for American hydro development, the two emphasized that bipartisan interest in hydropower and a commitment to cultivating domestic renewable energy sources are putting hydroelectric power at the forefront of policy decision making.
"Hydro is back," Wyden, D.-Ore., said. "In fact, hydro is way back."
Wyden, who chairs the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources and co-sponsored the Hydropower Improvement Act of 2013, said the numerous advantages hydroelectricity offers have helped make it a primary consideration as the nation's power producers strive to achieve President Barack Obama's "all-of-the-above" energy plan.
"[Hydropower] is good news for the economy, good news for the planet, and also good news for rural America," Wyden said.
That recently introduced hydropower-related bills have received such strong support from both Republicans and Democrats is a testament to the strong collaborations being made both within and outside the industry.
"This is extraordinary progress at a time when so often here in Washington, D.C., you'd have a fight between the parties about whether somebody's going to order a Coca-Cola or a Sprite," Wyden said. "You have legislative gridlock for as far as the eye can see -- except for hydro. There's a lot less conflict and a lot more cooperation."
According to Wyden, American hydropower currently accounts for about 100,000 MW (or 7%) of the nation's total installed capacity. The Senator argued that the country's hydroelectric capacity could be increased by 60,000 MW by 2025, however, if the right legislative support were in place. The road is still long, Wyden said, though support needed for such policies is at an all-time high.
"So often, because we can't get collaboration in the energy space, instead of that win-win, we get a lose-lose," Wyden said. "It seems to me that what hydro has done in the last few years is becoming the gold standard in terms of collaboration and showing how you can bring people together."
Wyden's comments were echoed by McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., who earlier this year introduced the Hydropower Regulatory Efficiency Act of 2013 to the House of Representatives.
"We are excited and eager to advance an all-of-the-above energy strategy, and in doing that, I've joined with colleagues on both sides of the aisle to make sure that our nation's largest, cleanest, most affordable, reliable and renewable is included," McMorris Rodgers said. "That's hydropower."
With only 3% of America's dams currently being used to produce hydro power, McMorris Rodgers said the United States could double its output by simply utilizing its untapped resources.
Her bill, which passed the House with a unanimous 422-0 vote in February, would eliminate much of the regulatory red tape associated with hydropower development -- particularly for small and in-conduit projects.
"I like to think of it as the 1040EZ for hydropower permitting," McMorris Rodgers joked.
The bills will be joined by the Bureau of Reclamation Small Conduit Hydropower Development and Rural Jobs Act in an appearance before the Senate Energy Committee later this week.
"When you look at the votes you're seeing on the floor of the House of Representatives, when you see how the numbers have mushroomed upwards, when you see the advantages hydro has in terms of collaboration, I think that hydro -- with respect to energy policy in our country -- is on the right side of history," Wyden said. " The legislation is definitely on a fast track. We've got bipartisan sponsors in the Senate just the way we did in the House. It's going to be a big boost for hydro."