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Government shutdown's impact on hydropower industry unclear

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Clouds of uncertainty hang over Washington D.C. after Congress was unable to pass the federal budget before the new fiscal year began at 12 a.m. this morning, sending the government into its first shutdown since 1995.

Exactly what the shutdown means for the hydroelectric power industry as a whole remains somewhat unclear, though many of the federal agencies operating hydropower projects seem to be following suit with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, whose operation orders include the "minimum required maintenance personnel of hydropower plants" in its civil works activities that are to be continued "without regard to available funding."

Likewise, the Bureau of Reclamation said it "will continue to deliver water and generate power during the shutdown period", with dam safety monitoring and infrastructure protection also continuing due in large part to non-appropriated funds.

So though day-to-day operations at many federally-operated hydropower plants will likely continue for the time being, project permitting, licensing, research and development appear most susceptible to the shutdown.

Agencies of particular relevance to the hydroelectric industry and the affects of their shutdowns include:

Department of Energy: As most of DOE's funding comes in the form of multi-year appropriations, the agency said it can continue to operate for some time before requiring furloughs. According to DOE's contingency plan, however, the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE), which oversees investments in clean energy technology, would be amongst the many offices to close should the department's money run low.

Department of the Interior: Interior has committed itself to continue its renewable energy production for the time being, though a release from Reclamation said the shutdown will suspend other activities, including "processing right-of-way and special-use permit applications and carrying out certain project management actions". Additionally, Reclamation said "contracts and agreements that are considered non-essential may be subject to suspension or stop work orders".

Environmental Protection Agency: The EPA has furloughed more than 90% of its staff, agency head Gina McCarthy said, leaving only enough to "keep the lights on and respond in the event of a significant emergency". EPA's litigation and legal support branches have shut down, in addition to its laboratory operations.

Federal Energy Regulatory Commission:
FERC has said it has some unspent appropriations from this past year and will thus continue normal operations for now. After that money is spent, the agency said it will reduce its staff to under 70. Hydroelectric inspections will continue, though regulatory filings will cease.

HydroWorld.com will continue updating this story as more information is collected.

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