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Breaking News: Hydro Currents

Obama signs $40 million for hydro R&D

President Obama signed a $410 billion appropriations bill March 11 that includes $40 million for the Department of Energy’s (DOE) hydropower research and development program. Congress last year failed to approve most major appropriations bills for the current, 2009, fiscal year. As a result, it passed a “continuing resolution” to fund the government at existing levels into March 2009, after the new president took office. That measure contained $10 million for DOE’s hydro R&D program, the same amount Congress appropriated for fiscal 2008. The new spending bill provides a total of $40 million – the existing $10 million plus another $30 million in new money – for research and development in tidal and ocean/marine renewable technologies, including demonstration programs, and for conventional hydropower research, development, and deployment.

Newfoundland seizes AbitibiBowater

The government of Newfoundland and Labrador expropriated hydropower projects on the Exploits River from their owner, newsprint manufacturer AbitibiBowater Inc. The government reported it assumed ownership and operation of the assets on March 29 through province-owned Nalcor Energy. “The purpose of this expropriation is to ensure our natural resources are returned to their rightful owners – the people of this province – after AbitibiBowater ceased operation of its logging and milling operations in central Newfoundland,” Natural Resources Minister Kathy Dunderdale said. Parties did not state what compensation AbitibiBowater received for the assets. Published reports said talks between the government and the papermaker broke off in March when Newfoundland rejected AbitibiBowater’s value of C$300 million (US$243 million) for the assets. AbitibiBowater hydro plants in the province included 30-MW Beeton, 45-MW Grand Falls-Windsor, and the 20-MW Bishop’s Falls project, all on the Exploits River. It also was an owner of 18-MW Star Lake.

Wellinghoff named FERC chairman

President Obama designated Commissioner Jon Wellinghoff chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) on March 19 and announced he is nominating Commissioner Suedeen Kelly to a third term. Obama named Wellinghoff, a Nevada independent, acting chairman of FERC in January. The president announced that decision after Chairman Joseph Kelliher, a Republican, stepped down as chairman and resigned his commission seat. Wellinghoff has been a commission member since 2006. The Senate reconfirmed him to a full five-year term in December 2007. Before joining FERC, he was a lawyer focusing on renewable energy, energy efficiency, and distributed generation. In announcing his intent to re-nominate Kelly to a third term, Obama noted the New Mexico Democrat has served as a commissioner since November 2003. In December 2004, she was confirmed to a second term that expires June 30. Before joining FERC, Kelly was University of New Mexico law professor.

State files to oppose Alcoa relicensing

On behalf of Gov. Beverly Perdue, the state of North Carolina filed a motion to intervene late in the relicensing of Alcoa Power Generating’s 210-MW Yadkin hydroelectric project on North Carolina’s Yadkin River. The motion filed with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission April 1 argues that Alcoa closed its Badin smelter that had been powered by Yadkin. Instead of supporting North Carolina jobs, the hydropower now defrays the cost of Alcoa’s out-of-state operations, the state said. North Carolina seeks federal takeover of the hydro project to allow the state to assume control of the project. Alcoa announced its intention to fight seizure of its business March 26, a day after state Sen. Fletcher Hartsell Jr., R-Concord, introduced a bill to create a state trust that would allow the state to take over Yadkin. Alcoa said seizure of Yadkin would result in millions of dollars in costs to North Carolina, including $240 million required to improve water quality and maintain and upgrade dams and the project’s four powerhouses.

Interior, FERC to cooperate on Outer Continental Shelf renewables

Secretary Ken Salazar of the U.S. Department of the Interior and acting Federal Energy Regulatory Commission Chairman Jon Wellinghoff (FERC) issued a joint statement March 17 confirming they will cooperate to regulate renewable energy projects on the Outer Continental Shelf, with FERC retaining authority over ocean power projects. Under the agreement, the Interior Department will have jurisdiction over offshore wind and solar energy projects, while FERC will oversee offshore projects that generate electricity from wave and tidal currents. Staff of both agencies have been directed to develop a memorandum of understanding that formally spells out the process for issuing permits and licenses for offshore renewable energy projects.

New law protects 1,100 river miles

President Obama signed sweeping land and water conservation regulation into law, setting aside millions of acres as protected areas and preventing development along 1,100 miles of newly designated National Wild and Scenic Rivers. The measure, a package of more than 160 bills, sets aside about 2 million acres – parks, rivers, streams, desert, forest, and trails – in nine states as new wilderness and renders them off limits to oil and gas drilling and other development. The legislation adds rivers in California, Oregon, Idaho, Wyoming, Arizona, and Massachusetts to the National Wild and Scenic River System. Conservation group American Rivers called the legislation the second largest Wild and Scenic Rivers package in history, designating 86 new Wild and Scenic Rivers totaling more than 1,100 miles.

Study: Renewables need pumped storage

A utility executive previewed a new study for the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), saying pumped-storage hydroelectric plants are needed to support expanded renewables portfolio standards. Executive Vice President Pedro Pizarro of Southern California Edison Co. (SCE) detailed key findings of the soon-to-be-released independent analysis during a March technical conference convened by FERC to examine integration of renewable energy generation into the wholesale electricity grid. The study evaluated integration and operational issues associated with relying on high levels of intermittent, renewable resources such as wind and solar power. Pizarro said the study found higher percentages of renewables in utilities’ generating portfolios would require higher planning reserve margins to back up the system when intermittent resources cannot produce sufficient energy.

Obama spurs rollback of ESA rule

President Obama ordered federal resource agencies to review Endangered Species Act (ESA) rules issued in the final days of the Bush administration (see Hydro Currents, Hydro Review, October 2008), with the idea of rolling back provisions that streamline ESA consultation with wildlife agencies on proposed actions considered unlikely to jeopardize protected species. “Finally, today I’ve signed a memorandum that will help restore the scientific process to its rightful place at the heart of the Endangered Species Act, a process undermined by past administrations,” Obama said. The U.S. Department of the Interior’s final rule was published in the Federal Register Dec. 16, 2008, and became effective Jan. 15, 2009, five days before Obama took office. The rule would let federal action agencies such as the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission determine whether federal actions are likely to jeopardize protected species, in some cases without the need to consult federal resource agencies.

DOE begins to release loan guarantees

Energy Secretary Steven Chu said March 17 the U.S. Energy Department is “beginning to release” federal loan guarantees for advanced clean energy projects that could include some forms of hydropower. The Energy Policy Act of 2005 authorized the department to issue billions of dollars in loan guarantees for alternative energy ventures using new technologies in renewable energy, carbon capture and storage, and energy efficiency. Department spokesmen refused to give any details. The economic stimulus package passed by Congress in February provides $6 billion in loan guarantees.

Senate lawyer named to Reclamation

President Obama said March 18 he is nominating Michael Connor, a lawyer for the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee since 2001, to serve as commissioner of the Bureau of Reclamation. In the Senate post, he has negotiated and managed legislation associated with water reclamation, Indian lands, and energy issues. Connor also has directed the Senate Water and Power Subcommittee, which oversees Reclamation and the U.S. Geological Survey, both in the U.S. Department of the Interior. From 1993 to 2001, he served as Interior’s deputy director, and then directed its Indian Water Rights Office. Pacific Northwest Region Director Bill McDonald served as acting commissioner since Commissioner Robert Johnson retired in January.

U.S. boosts renewables on public lands

The U.S. Department of the Interior announced it created a special task force to speed the development of renewable energy projects, including some hydropower, on federal lands. The new Task Force on Energy and Climate Change is to identify specific zones on public lands where the department can act rapidly to create large-scale production of some hydropower, solar, wind, geothermal, and biomass energy. It also is to work to resolve obstacles to renewable energy permitting, siting, development, and production. Among renewable energy sources listed in the secretary’s order is “incremental or small hydroelectric power on existing structures.” Interior’s Bureau of Reclamation operates 249 water resource projects in the western U.S., including 479 dams, dikes, and related facilities. On May 13, during its 2009 Annual Conference, the National Hydropower Association is holding a forum on adding new hydropower to existing federal dams, lands, and river reaches (visit www.hydro.org/conference2009/program.php).


Hydro Currents is compiled by the staff of HydroNews.net, a product of PennWell Corporation, the world’s leading provider of hydro information. To subscribe, call (1) 816-931-1311, or visit the Internet: www.hydroworld.com


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