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Hydro Currents

Congress allots $10 million for DOE hydro R&D

Congress approved an omnibus appropriations bill to fund the government through next September, including $10 million to restart the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) dormant hydropower research and development program. The bill supports the department’s advanced hydropower turbine program and directs funds to explore the energy and environmental benefits of deploying new hydropower technologies. The DOE Hydropower Program, now called the Water Power Energy R&D Program, will use the funds to conduct research on conventional hydropower and innovative hydropower technologies, such as thermal and wave technologies, for ocean, tidal, and in-stream generation. In the wake of a period of zero funding, the National Hydropower Association called the renewed funding a major victory for the hydro industry and for the continued growth of renewable domestic energy in the U.S.

Industry looks to 2008 to extend tax incentives

Although Congress failed to extend tax incentives for hydro and ocean technologies, a spokesman for the National Hydropower Association (NHA) says the industry will renew efforts in 2008 to extend the tax provisions. “With the tax title removed, both the long-term extension of the Section 45 production tax credit and the additional funds for the Clean Renewable Energy Bonds program have been stripped out,” NHA spokesman Jeff Leahey said of energy bill action. Leahey said one bright spot remained, in the form of a marine and hydrokinetic renewable energy title. “This new program specifically authorizes a federal research and development program for ocean, tidal, and in-stream hydrokinetic technologies, as well as conduit power applications and ocean thermal energy conversion devices,” the NHA official said. “It also establishes ocean energy research centers to test equipment and support demonstration projects.”

Canada eyes exports from Lower Churchill

Three Canadian energy companies announced they will explore options for exporting power from the proposed 2,824-MW Lower Churchill hydroelectric project in Labrador to Canada’s Maritime provinces and to New England in the United States. Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro, Emera Inc., and Emera subsidiary Nova Scotia Power Inc. signed a memorandum of understanding to study the technical, economic, financial, and regulatory aspects of exporting project power. Following a preliminary assessment, the parties are to decide if there is merit in advancing potential joint initiatives. The Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency is considering comments on draft guidelines for preparing an environmental statement on Lower Churchill. The project includes 2,000-MW Gull Island and 824-MW Muskrat Falls on the lower Churchill River.

Senate reconfirms Kelliher, Wellinghoff to FERC

The Senate reconfirmed Chairman Joseph Kelliher and Commissioner Jon Wellinghoff by unanimous consent to new terms on the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). President Bush named Kelliher, a Republican, in March 2007 to a second five-year term ending June 30, 2012, and reappointed him chairman of FERC. Bush renominated Wellinghoff, a registered independent, Dec. 11, 2007, with the Senate Energy Committee endorsing his nomination Dec. 18, making him eligible for consideration by the full Senate. Wellinghoff’s new term ends June 30, 2013. While the Energy Committee endorsed Kelliher’s nomination in May, the Republican’s name was not brought before the full Senate until Dec. 19, when the Senate considered Wellinghoff, who originally was recommended for FERC by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.

Vermont urges steps to support small hydro

The Vermont Agency of Natural Resources (VANR) is urging state lawmakers to update an inventory of potential hydropower sites at existing non-hydro dams and to investigate additional opportunities to increase generation at existing hydropower projects. Reviewing a 1980 New England River Basins Commission report, the agency said a total of 25 MW of new hydroelectric capacity could be added to 44 existing non-hydro dams in the state. However, in a 72-page report to the Legislature, VANR urged lawmakers to fund an updated study, which it called essential for identifying the best opportunities, both ecologically and economically, for new hydropower development. The agency also said the Department of Public Service should work with Vermont utilities to investigate opportunities for increasing production at existing hydro projects. VANR also called for funding to create a comprehensive guide to small hydropower development, focusing on projects with installed capacities of up to 100 kW.

FERC hydrokinetic policy to speed licensing

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) issued a policy statement under which it plans to expedite license issuance for hydrokinetic projects generating electricity from currents, ocean waves, and tides. Unlike its standard hydropower licenses, which cannot be issued until all terms and conditions are submitted by state and federal resource agencies, FERC said it plans to issue conditional hydrokinetic project licenses quickly, without waiting for authorizations from other agencies. However, the statement said, the hydrokinetic licenses would be conditioned to prevent a licensee from actually starting construction until it obtains all necessary authorizations. The statement said estimates suggest new hydrokinetic technologies could double U.S. hydropower production. FERC also issued its first license for a hydrokinetic energy project, the 1-MW Makah Bay Offshore Wave Pilot Project proposed for the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Washington. The decision gives licensee Finavera Renewables Ocean Energy Ltd. a conditioned five-year license.

New Brookfield unit pursues 36 new projects

Hydropower operator Brookfield Power is expanding into the development of new hydro projects in 15 U.S. states with the creation of a new affiliate, BPUS Generation Development LLC. Brookfield Power’s previous emphasis in the United States has been on making incremental improvements at existing hydroelectric projects. The new enterprise is pursuing at least 36 new hydro plants in the U.S. totaling more than 810 MW, including the 280-MW Mulqueeney Ranch Pumped-Storage project in California. Mulqueeney Ranch is the first of the new projects to obtain a preliminary permit from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. Still pending are applications filed by BPUS for 35 other projects ranging from 5 MW to 63 MW, and located in Arkansas, Georgia, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Texas, and West Virginia. The projects are located on river systems that include the Allegheny, Mississippi, Monongahela, and Ohio rivers. Many of the 36 projects would be developed at non-power dams operated by the Corps of Engineers.

B.C. begins outreach for 900-MW Site C

BC Hydro has begun a pre-consultation process to collect input from affected communities and stakeholders on the 900-MW Site C hydroelectric project proposed for British Columbia’s Peace River. BC Hydro announced it completed an initial project evaluation, part of a five-stage process. It also released a Stage 1 report on project feasibility that includes an estimated capital cost for the project of C$5 billion to C$6.6 billion (US$4.98 billion to US$6.57 billion). That figure is considerably higher than a reported 2005 estimate for the project of C$3.2 billion (US$3.19 billion).

Missouri, utility settle Taum Sauk breach suit

Missouri utility AmerenUE signed a settlement agreement with the state of Missouri in which AmerenUE will pay $177.35 million in compensation and remediation for the 2005 breach of the upper reservoir of the 408-MW Taum Sauk pumped-storage project. Taum Sauk’s dam breached Dec. 14, 2005, releasing 1.4 billion gallons of water down the Black River, injuring nine people, and damaging property, including Johnson’s Shut-Ins State Park. A Missouri Public Service Commission investigation cited a failure of utility management. A civil suit brought in Reynolds County Circuit Court by the state attorney general sought costs, expenses, penalties, and damages from AmerenUE. In addition to cash payment to various state funds, the settlement includes extensive remediation and restoration already performed by AmerenUE and additional prospective remediation and restoration.

FERC issues first license using integrated process

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) issued its first hydroelectric license using the integrated licensing process to PPL Montana for its 11-MW Mystic Lake project in Montana. The process, created to provide a more streamlined and efficient means of obtaining a license, coordinates FERC’s work with that of other federal agencies, Indian tribes, non-governmental organizations, and the public. FERC issued the relicense order within one year of the application being filed. The new process allows a license applicant’s pre-filing consultation and FERC’s environmental scoping to be conducted concurrently, rather than sequentially.

Firm pursues 59 hydrokinetic projects

Free Flow Power Corp. of Manchester, Mass., is pursuing development of 59 in-stream kinetic hydropower projects in seven states totaling 3,182 MW, all on the Mississippi River. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission issued preliminary permits to Free Flow Power Corp. limited liability companies in January to study the first four of the projects, which total 153 MW. The permitted projects, all in Louisiana, are: 56-MW Brilliant Point, 22-MW Point Pleasant, 24-MW Thirty-five Mile Point, and 51-MW White Alder. In addition to Louisiana, Free Flow companies have filed permit applications for projects in Arkansas, Illinois, Kentucky, Mississippi, Missouri, and Tennessee. Free Flow President Dan Irvin said nameplate capacity of all the proposed projects totals nearly 3,200 MW, but total available capacity, based on flow, would be about 1,600 MW.


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