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Breaking News: Hydro Currents

Obama's proposed budget recognizes hydropower

U.S. President Barack Obama's fiscal year 2011 budget requests for hydro-related government agencies and ocean energy research were announced. The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation's fiscal year 2011 budget request totals $1.1 billion, while the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Civil Works) announced a budget of $4.9 billion. What's more, the budget proposal seeks more than $40 million in funding of ocean renewables development. "The president's budget proposal promotes fiscal responsibility while allowing Reclamation to continue to meet its mission of providing water and producing renewable, clean hydropower," said Reclamation Commissioner Michael L. Connor. "The president's proposal will help communities in the West address their water-related challenges by supporting Reclamation's mission of managing, developing, and protecting water and related resources in an environmentally and economically sound manner in the interest of the American people." Reclamation's funding request addresses administration, departmental, and bureau priorities, Connor said. Key focus areas include the following programs: WaterSMART, Restoring Rivers, Climate Change Adaptation and Renewable Energy, and Supporting Tribal Nations. The proposal also enables Reclamation to fulfill its core missions of managing the delivery of water and the generation of hydroelectricity in the West, Reclamation said. The president's budget proposal for Reclamation's Water and Related Resources is $913.6 million, including $489.9 million for water and energy, land, and fish and wildlife resource management and development activities.

FERC to encourage pumped-storage technologies

The chairman of the U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission pledged to help reduce barriers and ensure appropriate tariff treatment for increased development of electricity storage technologies, including pumped-storage. Chairman Jon Wellinghoff testified Dec. 10, 2009, before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee on the regulatory and technical issues related to the integration of electricity storage into the nation's transmission grid. "Energy storage offers the ability to 'warehouse' electrons for consumption later or to balance the variability of some renewable resources," Wellinghoff said. "It alters the traditional assumption of a linear electrical network, which assumes that centralized generators send electrons through transmission and distribution systems to instantaneously match need." Wellinghoff said the most-used bulk electricity storage technology is pumped-storage hydropower. "Presently, there are 24 pumped-storage projects around the nation with an installed capacity of over 19,500 MW," he said. "But new storage technologies are under development, and in some cases being deployed, that could provide substantial value to the electric grid." Wellinghoff pointed to the development of closed-loop pumped storage that utilizes upper and lower reservoirs not linked to the natural ecosystem. "This allows operational flexibility not available with a traditional pumped-storage hydroelectric system, which uses natural rivers and reservoirs and must regulate flow to avoid harming local ecosystems," he said. "Currently, the commission has issued preliminary permits for pumped storage – both traditional and closed-loop – totaling over 27,000 MW of capacity. Over one-quarter of this capacity is closed-loop." Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, also testified. "Pumped hydro has been the energy storage workhorse," Murkowski told lawmakers. "It often doesn't get the credit it deserves."

Washington electric utility to receive land for ongoing conservation efforts

Seattle City Light said it will receive 850 acres of wilderness from the Washington Department of Natural Resources for stewardship under the utility's Wildlife Lands Program. The U.S. Department of Natural Resources said it expects to turn over the property to the utility in early 2010 at no cost under the state's Trust Land Transfer Program. The program allows for the transfer of land to public agencies that are better able to care for it with no need to generate revenue. "Seattle City Light is committed to producing low-cost electricity in an environmentally-sensitive manner," Seattle City Light Superintendent Jorge Carrasco said. "Part of that stewardship responsibility is taking care of the fish and animals that depend on the watersheds that power our hydroelectric dams." The lands to be transferred are the 640-acre Finney Creek and 210-acre Olivine Ends parcels. The Finney Creek parcel is located in the Skagit River drainage near existing Seattle City Light lands, while the Olivine Ends parcel is located in the Nooksack River drainage near other wilderness managed by the utility. The company operates three hydro projects along the Skagit River and has ongoing conservation efforts at lands near the river. The lands to be donated contain habitat for elk, salmon and other wildlife.

Energy Department revises loan program for renewable energy technologies

The U.S. Department of Energy issued the final rule amending the department's regulations for its Loan Guarantee Program. The program is intended to encourage investment in innovative renewable energy, including hydropower technologies. The revision allows for increased participation in the program by financial institutions and other investors. Under the rule change, the Loan Guarantee Program will be able to consider financing projects together with other lenders and will be able to provide loan guarantees to projects with multiple participants.

Senate confirms John Norris nomination to FERC

The U.S. Senate confirmed President Obama's nomination of Iowa Democrat John R. Norris to the U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. In a voice vote Dec. 24, 2009, the Senate approved the nomination of Norris to fill a commission seat vacated by the resignation of former Chairman Joseph Kelliher, a Republican. "John brings to FERC a wealth of experience, talent, and knowledge that will help us to meet the challenges of providing reliable, efficient, and sustainable energy for consumers," FERC Chairman Jon Wellinghoff said. The floor action follows the Oct. 8 endorsement of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, which sent Norris' name to the full Senate. "I am grateful for the opportunity to serve on the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and work toward ensuring open and fair energy markets in which consumers, retailers, and wholesalers can have confidence," Norris said. Norris, most recently chief of staff to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, is former chief of staff to then Iowa Gov. Vilsack. In a confirmation hearing Aug. 6, Norris told the committee that new hydropower projects would be crucial to meeting the nation's demand for clean, renewable power. "Investments in such capital-intensive industries as electric generation and transmission, hydroelectric power, natural gas infrastructure, and more are jeopardized by an uncertain future," Norris said. The appointment gives Democrats three seats on the five-member commission, including Wellinghoff of Nevada, who was designated chairman in March 2009 by Obama, succeeding Kelliher in that position.

U.S. awards Andritz Hydro contract for Folsom hydro project generator work

The Bureau of Reclamation awarded Andritz Hydro an $18.2 million contract to rewind three generators and replace excitation equipment at the 198.72-MW hydro plant at Folsom Dam. Reclamation awarded the contract in January 2010. Work involves all three turbine-generators at the plant on the American River north of Folsom, Calif. The project includes the removal and disposal of three sets of armature windings, stator cores and excitation systems. The contractor is to furnish and install armature windings, stator cores and digital excitation systems; evaluate generators for mechanical limitations and perform modifications; and remove, refurbish and reinstall field poles. Also, the contractor is to remove and reinstall on-line generator performance monitoring system components for replacement of stator cores and windings.

Officials tout hydropower during clean energy forum

At the Washington-Oregon Clean Energy Forum, held Dec. 4, 2009, U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., and Under Secretary of Energy Kristina Johnson expressed their support for hydropower. Murray and Johnson understand that hydropower can play a significant role in meeting the U.S.'s energy, environmental, and economic goals, said Linda Church Ciocci, executive director of the National Hydropower Association. "They understand that growing hydropower will help us address some of the country's most pressing issues," Ciocci said. Murray noted that in the Pacific Northwest, hydropower not only has bolstered the region's economy but also has helped it maintain lower levels of carbon emissions as compared to other parts of the U.S. Murray said hydropower is an important part of a renewable energy portfolio in the Pacific Northwest. She cited an NHA study that highlighted the potential of greater hydropower usage throughout the U.S. Under Secretary Johnson also said hydropower has a lot of potential to expand its contributions to the U.S.'s energy mix. Johnson added that opportunities abound in a variety of hydro technologies, including ocean and tidal systems and small hydro projects. "NHA has done a study that has shown that, indeed, hundreds of thousands of jobs are available, and we can double the amount of hydropower in this country," Johnson said. "This is a great opportunity for us to develop clean energy."

FERC declines to appeal order stalling 49.8-MW School Street relicense

The U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission declined to appeal a court order that overturned FERC's relicensing of the 49.8-MW School Street hydroelectric project and ordered FERC to reconsider whether it should have entertained a rival proposal. FERC issued a 40-year relicense in 2007 to Erie Boulevard Hydropower L.P. for the upgrade and continued operation of School Street, which diverts water from the Mohawk River upstream of Cohoes Falls, bypassing 4,500 feet of riverbed, including the falls, New York's second tallest. In relicensing the project, FERC rejected several attempts by Green Island Power Authority to propose development of the competing 100-MW Cohoes Falls project in lieu of renewing School Street. FERC rejected a preliminary permit application by Green Island, noting the Cohoes Falls project only could be developed if School Street – which has generated power since 1916 – were decommissioned and removed. Responding to Green Island's appeal of the relicense order, the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said FERC erred by failing to consider a new intervention by Green Island when FERC allowed Erie Boulevard to modify its relicense proposal based on terms of a settlement agreement. The court ordered FERC to reopen the relicense proceeding to determine whether the settlement agreement was a "material amendment" to the relicense application and, if so, whether Green Island is properly intervening with its Cohoes Falls proposal. During the original proceeding, FERC rejected a 2004 motion by Green Island to intervene in the School Street relicensing, finding the motion was filed 13 years late in the proceeding, which began in 1991.

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