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Colorado enacts small hydropower development legislation

A bill enacted Saturday by Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper will help aid the development of small hydroelectric power within the state.

Hickenlooper signed the legislation -- officially HB14-1030 -- at the 7.5-MW South Canal hydropower plant in Montrose, which began operation this past June.

The new law streamlines state environmental review for small hydroelectric projects without weakening or changing any underlying state environmental requirements, according to the Colorado Small Hydro Association (COSHA).

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.

"Last summer, federal permitting requirements for small hydro were streamlined thanks to Colorado legislators in Congress," COSHA President Kurt Johnson said. "Thanks to leadership from Colorado legislators in Denver, today similar state-level streamlining legislation has become law in Colorad, further underscoring Colorado's leadership in hydro policy innovation." (3)

The bill stemmed from an October 2013 Water Resources Review Committee hearing before being introduced to the state legislature later last year.

HB 14-1030 then received unanimous approval from the House Transportation and Energy Committee before passing the Colorado House in February.

The legislation was the unanimously approved by the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Natural Resources and Energy before passing the state Senate in March.

COSHA said the bill could ultimately create more than 500 new jobs in Colorado, where an estimated 100 MW of small hydroelectric power potential could be developed.

A further 30 MW of capacity could come from in-conduit sources, according to an agricultural hydropower assessment released by the Colorado Department of Agriculture in January.

"Colorado's innovation in hydro policy is serving as a model for other states nationwide," Johnson said.

The state has a strong history in hydropower policy innovation, COSHA said, with Colorado being the first state to sign a memorandum of understanding with the Federal Energy Regulatory COmmission to expedite small hydro approval; being the first state to prepare a small hydropower handbook; modifying an existing water infrastructure loan program at the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) to make low-interest financing available for small hydro construction; and being the first state to complete an agricultural hydropower resource assessment.

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