New information about America’s hydropower potential bolsters a bipartisan push for hydropower legislation designed to encourage development at non-powered dams.
By Russell W. Ray and Shaun Epperson
For 36 years, Bill Smith has been helping hydropower developers navigate the arduous licensing process, and he expects to keep working another 20 years as the industry embarks on what he described as a new era of growth for hydropower.
“I want to ride this next wave,” said the white-bearded Smith.
Smith was one of 574 hydropower professionals who attended the National Hydropower Association’s 2011 Conference, held April 4-6 in Washington, D.C. Citing the conference’s record attendance, Smith said he hasn’t seen this much interest in building more hydro capacity since the hydropower boom of the late ’70s.
“The excitement I see at this conference is like what we had back in ’79, when everyone wanted to do something,” said Smith, president of Hydropower International Services and former NHA president.
During the conference, the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory released an eye-opening study that found the U.S. could add 12,600 MW of renewable power capacity to the grid by adding hydropower to 54,000 existing dams.
|U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, delivered the keynote address at the National Hydropower Association’s 2011 Conference. In March, Murkowski introduced the Hydropower Improvement Act of 2011.|
Most of the potential – 8,000 MW – is concentrated at 100 dams in the south and Midwest, Brennan Smith, a water resources engineer at Oak Ridge, told attendees at the conference.
“If we want to make a big bang, all we have to really do is look at 100 dams,” he said. “That’s a much more manageable program.”
The 10 largest non-powered dams identified in the Oak Ridge study could generate up to 3,000 MW of renewable power capacity, the study showed.
Linda Church Ciocci, executive director of the National Hydropower Association, said the study “clearly shows that there is huge potential to expand hydropower in areas of the country that may not think of themselves as having renewable energy resources.”
Hydropower projects representing more than 88,000 MW of new capacity are pending before the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, up from 30,000 MW two years ago.
“This is a historic time,” said outgoing NHA President Andrew Munro. “Hydro is now a leading driver in the energy policy debate. NHA is an organization to reckon with on Capitol Hill.”
In addition, several state and federal agencies have signed new memorandums of understanding, which have led to a lot more cooperation in licensing and permitting new projects. In fact, Smith said one of his projects received a license in just six months.
“Not every one of them are going to go that smoothly, but I see a much better trend in licensing,” he said.
U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, who in March introduced the Hydropower Improvement Act of 2011, delivered the conference’s keynote address. She said hydropower is a clean, efficient energy resource that is poised to secure a larger share of the nation’s renewable energy pie.
“I am a strong, strong hydro proponent,” said Murkowski, ranking member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. “I consider hydro to be one of our hardest working renewable resources.”
The bipartisan hydropower legislation was heard by the full Energy and Natural Resources Committee just two weeks after it was introduced on March 17.
“That was not by accident,” Murkowski said. “That is because we introduced a bill that went through a vetting process. That’s why we have good bipartisan sponsorship.”
The committee quickly approved the bill on April 12, less than a month after it was introduced in the Senate.
FERC Commissioner John Norris and Assistant Secretary of Interior Anne Castle also spoke to hundreds of conference attendees during the opening session.
“There is great opportunity for hydro moving forward,” Norris said. “We are in a period of transition in our energy economy.”
Castle pointed to a recent Department of Interior study that identified 70 non-powered sites operated by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation (USBR) that have “reasonable potential” to produce electricity and create jobs. If hydropower were added to all 70 sites, up to 226 MW of renewable power capacity could be added to the grid, the study showed.
“We think that those 70 facilities could produce about 1 million additional megawatt hours of electricity and serve about 85,000 homes,” Castle said. “We think this report is a great example of how government can use better the resources that it has at its disposal.”
|FERC Commissioner John Norris answers questions following a speech at the National Hydropower Association’s 2011 Conference in Washington, D.C.|
The Interior report also estimates that about 1,200 public and private jobs could be created if hydropower were added to all 70 sites. The report is just the first step in the agency’s effort to assess its hydropower potential. The agency also is evaluating canals and constructed waterways to determine the hydropower potential of USBR’s low-head sites. The assessment is expected to be completed by the end of the year, Castle said.
“We wouldn’t be doing a hydropower resource assessment unless we were interested in seeing that development,” she said.
Hydropower advocates also touted a new, updated MOU between FERC and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers that promotes timely review of proposals to construct and operate non-federal hydropower projects at dams owned by the Corps. The MOU had not been updated in 23 years.
“Instead of gaining up on each other, we gained up on the issues that were confronting us,” said Kamau Sadiki, the Corps’ national hydropower business line manager. “The Corps is committed to that MOU.”
Among other things, the MOU calls for early involvement of FERC and Corps staff during the pre-filing stage of licensing and the environmental review process so issues are identified early and sufficient information is gathered to inform both agencies’ decisions
Ann Miles, director of hydropower licensing at FERC, said the number of proposals for new hydro projects is soaring.
“Historically, most of our work has been relicensing,” Miles said. “Now, over a third of our work is new construction.”
NHA Presents Henwood Award to North American Hydro’s Chuck Alsberg
Charles F. “Chuck” Alsberg, chief executive officer of North American Hydro, received the Dr. Kenneth Henwood Award for individual achievement during the National Hydropower Association’s 2011 Conference, held April 4-6, in Washington, D.C.
NHA established the Henwood Award in 1990 in memory of Kenneth Henwood, an NHA board member, engineer, and developer who died while working on a project in California.
Alsberg was selected by a committee of his peers in recognition of his dedication to hydropower. Alsberg is a licensed engineer who received his engineering degree from the University of Missouri at Rolla. In 1978, he co-founded North American Hydro and has dedicated himself and his career to the acquisition, restoration and operation of vintage hydro plants. Today, North American Hydro owns and operates 43 hydropower facilities in the Midwest and generally recognized as the leading independent hydropower producer in the region.
“Chuck has unselfishly shared his vast experience and knowledge with others, helping them develop and promote their ideas,” said Doug Miller, chairman of the Selection Committee. “Chuck is very deserving of the honor and I wish him continued success in his endeavors.”
NHA conferred two awards in the Operational Excellence category:
- Ameren Missouri won for Optimizing Efficient Operation and Dispatch of Osage Plant Turbines at the Osage Project in Missouri.
- Grant County Public Utility District won for its Wanapum Dam Fish Bypass system on the Wanapum Dam in central Washington.
In the category of Public Education, NHA conferred two awards:
- Brookfield Renewable Power won for its Public Safety Outreach Program.
- Turlock Irrigation District won for the Dexter Duck Swim Safe Safety Tips Animated Video, which is used as an education tool throughout classrooms in its 662 square mile service area.
NHA conferred three awards in the category of Recreational, Environmental, and Historical Enhancement:
- Portland General Electric Company won for the design and implementation of the Pelton Round Butte Selective Water Withdrawal Project and Fish Collection Facility at the Pelton Round Butte Hydroelectric Project near Madras, OR.
- Puget Sound Energy won for the recovery of Baker River sockeye salmon at the Baker River Hydroelectric Project.
- South Carolina Gas & Electric Company won for its Saluda Hydroelectric Project Tree House Archaeological Project in South Carolina.
Russell Ray is senior editor of Hydro Review. Shaun Epperson is associate editor of Hydro Review.