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BREAKING NEWS: Hydro Currents

U.S. renewables funding includes hydro

The U.S. Treasury and Energy departments announced guidelines offering $3 billion in government funds to companies developing renewable energy projects including some hydropower and ocean energy projects. The funds, from the economic stimulus package passed by Congress in February, are to provide direct payments to companies, rather than investment or production tax credits, to support about 5,000 renewable energy projects. Individual projects could qualify for an average of $600,000 each. Although $550 million in tax credits were provided to 450 businesses in 2006, the economic downturn has made it harder for projects to obtain financing. Under the new program, companies would forgo the tax credits in favor of an immediate reimbursement of a portion of the property expense, making funds available almost immediately.

U.S. offers $32 million to upgrade hydro

Energy Secretary Steven Chu announced $32 million in economic stimulus money is being offered to deploy hydropower upgrades at non-federal hydro projects of all sizes. The Department of Energy said the money is to support deployment of turbines and control technologies to increase power generation and environmental stewardship at existing non-federal hydro projects. Grants of up to $25 million will be offered for upgrades of up to five conventional hydro projects of more than 50 MW. Another $7 million will be offered for upgrades of up to five conventional hydro projects of less than 50 MW. “There’s no one solution to the energy crisis, but hydropower is clearly part of the solution and represents a major opportunity to create more clean energy jobs,” Chu said.

Manitoba Crees partner in 695-MW Keeyask

Four Cree Nations secured economic, social, and environmental benefits as well as an ownership stake in Manitoba Hydro’s proposed 695-MW Keeyask hydroelectric project, planned for the lower Nelson River 730 kilometers north of Winnipeg, Manitoba. Officials of Manitoba Hydro and the four nations signed the Joint Keeyask Development Agreement outlining the partnership arrangement. Before the project can be built, Manitoba Hydro-Electric Board must approve construction and Manitoba and federal licenses and approvals must be obtained. Nevertheless, Manitoba Hydro anticipated the project could go into service as early as 2017. Keeyask would be built at the foot of Gull Rapids and at the head of Stephens Lake, the reservoir of Manitoba Hydro’s 1,220-MW Kettle hydroelectric project.

House backs $40 million in hydro research

The U.S. House endorsed a $33.3 billion energy and water appropriations bill that includes spending $40 million on the Department of Energy’s hydropower research and development program. Although the House Appropriations Committee approved spending only $30 million on hydro R&D for the 2010 budget year that begins Oct. 1, Rep. Candice Miller, R-Mich., amended the bill in floor action July 17 to add $10 million. That brought funding back up to $40 million, the amount appropriated for the current year. The bill was sent to the Senate, whose own Appropriations Committee endorsed $60 million for hydro research. The House also added an amendment by Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Wash., to allot $5 million for the Bureau of Reclamation to begin developing prospective hydro projects at Reclamation installations identified in a 2007 study. The study, ordered by the Energy Policy Act of 2005, found six Reclamation sites with conditions sufficient to warrant exploration for additional hydro development. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers identified 58 sites based on similar criteria.

State rejects 401 for Catawba-Wateree

Duke Energy’s 724.74-MW Catawba-Wateree project has become a pawn in a water rights squabble between South Carolina and North Carolina. At the urging of South Carolina Attorney General Henry McMaster, the state Board of Health and Environmental Control reversed its staff’s approval of water quality certification for the project under Clean Water Act Section 401. State Clean Water Act certification, or waiver of certification, is required before the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission can relicense the project on the Catawba River. Duke Energy Carolinas LLC could appeal the board decision to state Administrative Law Court or file a new 401 application. Duke applied in 2006 to relicense Catawba-Wateree’s 13 powerhouses and 11 reservoirs. Five of its dams are in South Carolina. The rest are in North Carolina, which has issued its 401 certification. McMaster said certification could interfere with a Supreme Court case in which South Carolina seeks to cut the water North Carolina withdraws from the Catawba.

House renewables standard includes hydro

The U.S. House approved climate change legislation, including a renewable electricity standard that would require utilities to increase the amount of power they obtain from renewable energy sources including some hydropower and ocean energy. The House narrowly passed the climate change bill, with a controversial “cap and trade” program to stem carbon emissions. Climate change legislation still must get through the Senate, which is expected to propose its own version, with uncertain prospects. Separately, a Senate committee endorsed a broad energy package with its own renewable electricity standard requiring utilities to increase their renewable energy sources including some hydro and ocean energy.

Ontario advances 100-MW Little Jackfish

Ontario Power Generation launched an environmental assessment of a 100-MW hydroelectric project proposed for the Little Jackfish River north of Lake Nipigon, Ontario. As part of the environmental assessment process, Ontario Power Generation and the Lake Nipigon First Nations are to cooperate to assess project environmental, cultural, and socio-economic effects. Ontario Power Generation has retained SENES Consultants Ltd. to help with the environmental assessment. The province-owned utility said it is optimistic discussions with the nations will result in an ownership arrangement for Little Jackfish similar to that for its 12.5-MW Lac Seul project. Lac Seul First Nation has a 25 percent equity share in that station.

Governors back call to study pumped storage

The governors of four Pacific Northwest states urged Energy Secretary Steven Chu to approve requests by Bonneville Power Administration (BPA) for funding to study pumped-storage hydropower sites to support intermittent renewable resources. Govs. C.L. “Butch” Otter of Idaho, Brian Schweitzer of Montana, Ted Kulongoski of Oregon, and Christine Gregoire of Washington wrote Chu in support of the BPA proposal, saying additional pumped storage is needed to support increased amounts of wind power and other intermittent renewables being added to the BPA grid.

FERC to advance smart grid

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) adopted a Smart Grid Policy Statement setting priorities for development of standards it says are crucial to a reliable and “smart grid.” One of FERC’s priorities is to develop standards to coordinate integration of emerging technologies into the power system, such as renewable resources and electricity storage facilities. Hydropower pumped storage is being promoted as a tool to support additions of intermittent generation from renewable energy sources. Smart grid advancements are to apply digital technologies to the grid, enabling two-way communications and real-time coordination of information from both generating plants and demand-side resources.

Senate confirms Zoi to Energy post

The U.S. Senate confirmed President Obama’s nomination of Cathy Zoi to be the Energy Department’s assistant secretary for energy efficiency and renewable energy. The White House said she has a long career in promoting renewable energy and fighting climate change. In January 2007, she became chief executive officer at the Alliance for Climate Protection, which was established by former Vice President Al Gore. The organization’s goal is to persuade Americans about the urgency and solutions of global warming. Before Zoi joined the Gore group, she served as group executive director at the Bayard Group, which was recently renamed Landis+Gyr Holdings. She was also a manager at the Environmental Protection Agency.

FERC EIS backs 117.3-MW South Feather

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) issued an environmental impact statement recommending the relicensing of the 117.3-MW South Feather hydroelectric project with staff recommendations that would cost the licensee an additional $1.2 million. South Feather Water and Power Agency proposes relicensing South Feather, comprising four hydro developments on 1,988 acres of federal land on California’s South Feather River, Lost Creek, and Slate Creek. South Feather Water proposes no capacity or operating changes, but does propose measures to protect and enhance environmental resources. FERC staff recommended additional measures, but opposed a U.S. Forest Service mandatory condition for even higher minimum flows.

Quebec water plan would include 3,000 MW

An independent research institute proposes diverting flood waters from three northern Quebec rivers — the Broadback, Waswanipi, and Bell — to generate 14 terawatt-hours annually at 11 hydro plants and to export 25 billion cubic meters of water each year. Montreal Economic Institute says the C$15 billion (US$13.5 billion) Northern Waters project would make a profit and have limited environmental effects. Water would be diverted via rivers and six pump stations to the Ottawa River, where it would flow to the St. Lawrence River. The report proposed adding generating equipment at 11 hydro plants on the Ottawa totaling 3,000 MW.

Court: FERC can deny late intervention

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) did not act arbitrarily in denying late intervention by environmental groups opposing a plan to reduce flows from California’s Pyramid Dam in order to protect a toad. California Department of Water Resources (DWR) asked to amend its FERC license to remove minimum flow requirements, saying a flow decrease was needed to protect the endangered Arroyo Southwestern Toad. Environmental groups argued DWR simply wanted to divert more water to cities. FERC denied their late petitions to intervene, preventing them from challenging a flow change in court.

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