Regulators tout "historic" MOU as the hydro industry makes plans to build on that momentum by calling for regulatory reforms and incentives for the most reliable form of renewable power.
Hydropower advocates meeting in Washington, D.C., for the National Hydropower Association's 2010 Conference said a "historic" agreement between three federal agencies will be a powerful tool in helping the industry reach its goal of doubling hydropower production in the U.S.
Hydropower can play a starring role in the nation's push toward a clean energy economy, said Department of Energy (DOE) Undersecretary Kristina Johnson, who delivered the keynote address during the conference's opening plenary session.
Johnson was one of several keynote speakers during the three-day event, which drew more than 500 attendees, an all-time high.
The NHA conference, held April 26-28, came after the U.S. Department of Interior (DOI), U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and DOE signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) to promote the development of hydropower, the largest and most reliable source of renewable power. Under the agreement, the agencies agreed to work more closely and align priorities to support the development of environmentally sustainable hydropower.
Johnson said she looks forward to seeing results from the recent MOU and that hydropower has plenty of room to expand its role in providing clean, renewable energy.
"We're quite excited to move forward on this," she said. "We're counting on hydropower to double, both in jobs and clean electrons on the grid."
The Corps is the nation's largest owner of hydropower. Terrence C. "Rock" Salt, is principal deputy assistant secretary of the Army, who provides policy oversight for the Corps. During his keynote speech, Salt said the potential to increase hydropower capacity in the U.S. is significant.
"I don't know what the right number is, but there's no reason why we can't achieve a huge lift in hydropower," Salt said.
The U.S. has about 100,000 MW of hydropower capacity. However, a study by Navigant Consulting Inc. shows that the technical potential is around 400,000 MW. What's more, up to 1.4 million jobs could be created by 2025 if the potential for new capacity is met, the study shows.
"One of the reasons this MOU is historic is because it's an action MOU," said John Tubbs, deputy assistant secretary of the DOI for water and science. "We need to achieve the goals the MOU set forth."
Roger Ballentine, president of Green Strategies Inc., an environmental policy consulting firm, said the MOU represents a genuine effort by the federal government to boost hydropower capacity in the U.S. Such an agreement would not have been possible five years ago, Ballentine said.
"The MOU is a remarkable achievement," he said. "I am just amazed about where we are today compared to where we were just a few years ago. It's extraordinary."
U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu, Ballentine said, is "completely committed to hydropower."
Lori Caramanian, counselor to the assistant secretary of water and science at DOI, said getting the heads of three federal agencies and their lawyers to agree to the provisions in the MOU was a titanic undertaking.
"That was no small chore," Caramanian said. "But we got it done and we're really excited about moving forward."
The potential to boost hydropower capacity at facilities owned and operated by the Bureau of Reclamation, an agency under DOI, is great, Caramanian said.
"We have over 500 dams. More importantly, we have thousands of miles of irrigation canals," she said. "Of those 500 dams, 58 of them have federal hydropower on them and 71 are private hydropower leases. So there's a lot we can do. We have irrigation canals that can be fitted with small turbines."
NHA President Andrew Munro said hydropower is a firm, dispatchable form of renewable energy that can grow with the help of regulatory and legislative reforms designed to speed up the licensing process and boost investors' confidence.
"The opportunity is right now for the hydropower industry," Munro said. "Our benefits of clean power, job creation, and environmental quality line up perfectly with the priorities of our country."
The conference's opening day included a rally on Capitol Hill, which featured a visit from several key lawmakers and energy regulators.
FERC Commissioner Philip Moeller and U.S. Reps. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., Ed Markey, D-Mass., and Doc Hastings, R-Wash., were among those in attendance.
"We have a huge opportunity," said Rodgers, a founding member of the House Hydropower Caucus. "There have been so many positive results, and we just want to continue the positive story of hydropower."
Markey said hydropower should be recognized as a renewable energy source that has helped to fuel the country's energy needs throughout the nation's history and that there is plenty of opportunity for hydropower to take a leading role in the nation's energy future.
"Hydro is back. Hydro is big," Markey said.
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Russell Ray and Shaun Epperson are associate editors of Hydro Review.