Colorado passes legislation to ease small hydro development

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The Colorado House of Representatives passed bipartisan legislation earlier today that will streamline the development of small hydropower within the state.

The bill -- officially HB14-1030 -- streamlines state environmental review for small hydroelectric projects without weakening or changing any underlying state environmental requirements, according to the Colorado Small Hydro Association.

Instead, the bill directs the Colorado Energy Office to facilitate project review by state agencies in a timely manner commensurate with federal agency timelines, making it possible for an applicant to simultaneously clear both federal and state reviews as quickly as 60 days for "non-controversial" projects.

The bill also streamlines the electrical inspection process by citing National Electrical Code (NEC) standards that electricians should be guided by when installing small hydro. According to COSHA, electrical inspectors will now determine if a project meets NEC standards for safety, quality and code compliance.

HB14-1030 mirrors legislation passed at the federal level in August 2013, which included the Hydropower Regulatory Efficiency Act and the Bureau of Reclamation Small Conduit Hydropower Development and Rural Jobs Act.

"Federal permitting requirements for small hydro have recently been streamlined thanks to Colorado legislators in Washington, D.C.," COSHA President Kurt Johnson said. "Thanks to leadership from Colorado legislators in Denver, similar streamlining legislation is now moving forward at a state level."

The bill was introduced in the Colorado House by Reps. Diane Mitsch Bush and Don Coram, with additional sponsorship from Reps. Randy Fischer, Jerry Sonnenberg and Edward Vigil. Meanwhile, senate support came from Sens. Gail Schwartz, Ellen Roberts and Mary Hodge.

"Congratulations and thanks to the sponsors of HB14-1030 for their leadership on this common sense legislation which will cut red tape, helping accelerate development of new small hydro installations and job creation in rural Colorado."

The bill received unanimous approval from the Colorado House Transportation and Energy Committee on February 5, with supporting testimony coming from COSHA, American Rivers and the Colorado Energy Office.

COSHA estimates that Colorado has the potential for about 100 MW of new hydropower development, equating to approximately 500 jobs.

Additionally, the Colorado Department of Agriculture recently announced the results from an agricultural hydropower assessment that was used to identify the state's most cost-effective agricultural opportunities.

The report highlighted pressurized irrigation as the most cost-effective near-term opportunity for hydropower development with up to 30 MW of potential identified.

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