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DOE unveils ambitious plan for long-term hydroelectric power development

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The U.S. Department of Energy today unveiled a plan ultimately designed to dramatically increase American hydroelectric capacity in the coming decades.

The ambitious multi-year program, announced at the National Hydropower Association's annual conference in Washington, D.C., calls upon industry members to collaborate with the U.S. Department of Energy and other federal agencies in creating a long-term plan allowing for the development of the nation's uncultivated hydroelectric resources.

"We have been working quite a bit with NHA and the NHA board to try to figure out if this 'Hydropower Vision' plan makes sense now -- today -- and trying to move toward a roadmap for this industry," DOE Wind and Water Power Program manager Jose Zayas said. "We've confirmed with them that it does make sense. We've confirmed with them that now is the time to do it."

Often overlooked as a source of readily-available renewable energy, Hydropower Vision is not only meant to increase the sector's visibility, but also quantify and monetize its advantages in a way that makes it an attractive option for policymakers, developers and consumers. It is telling this story, Zayas said, that makes the involvement of industry members so important.

"It will require participation from all of you in terms of your knowledge, your information and your voices," Zayas said. "We're launching it here today, but these are just introductory steps that we hope to share with you to solicit not only feedback, but also awareness.

"Our goal is that by the time we are completed, most of you know what this is about, most of you have had an opportunity to voice your opinion, and at the same time, you become agents of this work and of this industry."

The report will seek to answer a number of questions regarding the current state and future of hydroelectric power, including market and growth opportunities; how conventional and pumped-storage projects factor into America's energy mix; hydropower's economic, environmental and social benefits; and what activities might be needed to realize Hydropower Vision's scope.

"The key section of this report is taking that picture, taking that understanding, taking all that information and then distilling it to the activities that all of us must do," Zayas said. "What is the role of the government? What is the role of the industry? What is the role of other stakeholders and what do we need to do to make these things happen in order to try to maximize the possibility?"

Already America's most prevalent source of renewable energy and an important component in President Barack Obama's all-of-the-above energy strategy, a DOE report also released today notes that an additional 65,000 MW of hydroelectric capacity exists across more than three million U.S. rivers and streams.

"Far from being tapped out, hydropower has the potential to play an even larger role in our diverse electricity portfolio as we strive for a cleaner energy future and a stronger economy," NHA Executive Director Linda Church Ciocci said. "I applaud DOE for undertaking this extensive study."

The report, which builds on a previous DOE study that identified 12,000 MW of capacity at the nation's existing non-powered dams, further emphasizes hydro's room for growth.

"Hydropower can double its contributions by the year 2030," Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz said. "We have to pick up the covers off of this hidden renewable that's right in front of our eyes and continues to have significant potential."

DOE said it plans to provide updates on Hydropower Vision at the HydroVision International 2014 conference and exhibition in Nashville, Tenn., and the 2015 NHA conference before issuing a draft report during the third quarter of 2015.

"This is an exciting time," Zayas said. "But we believe the time is now, and we need all of your help.''

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