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House panel approves bill that could ease hydropower development

Legislation that would unlock hydropower development at existing U.S. infrastructure took a big step in June when the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Energy and Power voted to advance House Resolution 5892.

H.R. 5892, also known as the Hydropower Regulatory Efficiency Act, contains measures that would "facilitate the development of hydropower and conduit projects through several common-sense reforms," including:

- Updating the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission license exemption standard to streamline the development of more hydro projects;

- Giving FERC the option to exempt hydro projects with a capacity of less than 10 MW and conduit projects with capacity between 5 and 40 MW from the permitting process; and

- Allowing FERC to extend the terms of a preliminary permit for up to two years, for a total of five years, in order to allow a permittee sufficient time to develop and file a license application.

The bipartisan bill, introduced by representatives Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.) and Diane DeGette (D-Colo.), passed before the subcommittee on a unanimous voice vote.

The bill is one piece of a comprehensive energy solution that McMorris hopes will include an increased emphasis on hydropower. In early June, she wrote to President Barack Obama, urging him to better utilize America's hydroelectric potential. "While I applaud your decision to embrace an 'all-of-the-above' energy approach, I am disappointed your 'all-of-the-above' approach does not include hydropower," McMorris wrote.

Lake Elsinore transmission line takes another hit from California utility commission

The California Public Utilities Commission has voted unanimously against a 500-MW transmission line that would have distributed power from a pumped-storage plant in San Juan Creek in Riverside County.

California judge Angela Minkin dismissed Nevada Hydro Co.'s application April 18, giving the company 30 days to file comments with the commission. But the commission voted 5-0 against the project at its meeting May 24, formally blocking the transmission line from advancing. Nevada Hydro would have to file another application should it want to pursue the project.

The transmission line, part of the 600-MW Lake Elsinore Advanced Pumped-Storage project, would have crossed the Cleveland National Forest and has been rejected by other agencies in the 14 years since Nevada Hydro first proposed the project.

As planned, a dam and upper reservoir would be built on San Juan Creek, utilizing the existing Lake Elsinore as its lower reservoir. A 32-mile transmission line would then be built, connecting an existing Southern California Edison transmission line to the north and an existing San Diego Gas & Electric transmission line to the south.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission backed the project in its final environmental impact statement that was issued in February 2007.

FERC dismissed the application to license in August 2011, saying ideological disagreements between Nevada Hydro and co-licensee Elsinore Valley Municipal Water District would make it difficult for the operators to comply with the terms of the license.

"During the course of the proceeding, it has become apparent that Nevada Hydro's primary interest is developing the project's transmission line, which it ultimately hopes to use to transport electric power between the systems of major California utilities, rather than building a pumped-storage project and its associated transmission lines," the FERC order states. "Elsinore Valley, on the other hand, wants to develop a pumped-storage project as proposed and improve the water quality of Lake Elsinore through the operation of that project."

FERC again rejects permit application for 1,070-MW pipeline between Colorado, Wyoming

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has rejected a request by Wyco Power and Water Inc. to reconsider its dismissal of Wyco's application for a preliminary permit to study developing a Wyoming-to-Colorado water pipeline with hydro plants totaling from 550 to 1,070 MW.

FERC dismissed the preliminary permit application in February as premature. Wyco applied in October 2011 for the Regional Watershed Supply project's preliminary permit, which would reserve the site while the applicant studied feasibility of the project for hydropower licensing.

In rejecting the application, the commission said Wyco could not gather all the hydro project information required by the Federal Power Act until authorizations have been obtained for a specific pipeline route or the process to identify a specific route has been substantially completed.

In its rehearing request, Wyco said FERC has issued other permits to projects on pipelines and that Wyco has fulfilled all requirements for a preliminary permit. It added that the pipeline route could not be finalized until the locations of the hydro plants could be studied and established. Wyco also argued that it cannot risk the financial investment of pursuing a license unless it receives a FERC permit to establish its priority for unused water in Wyoming's Green River Basin. On rehearing May 17, FERC rejected all the applicant's contentions, saying Wyco has presented no information to indicate planning, routing or authorizations for the pipeline are in progress or are reasonably foreseeable.

Descriptions of pipeline length and installed capacity vary

Wyco's Aaron Million, a Fort Collins, Colo., businessman, proposed the Regional Watershed Supply project, a buried pipeline to carry water from two points in Wyoming, the Green River and the reservoir of the Bureau of Reclamation's 151.95-MW Flaming Gorge project on the Green River in Utah and Wyoming. More than 250,000 acre-feet would be delivered across the Continental Divide to storage facilities near Pueblo, Colo.

The preliminary permit application identified five conventional hydro plants and two pumped-storage projects totaling 550 MW on a 501-mile pipeline.

Proposed hydro developments included 240-MW Lake Hattie Pumped-Storage utilizing a new upper reservoir to be built on Sheep Mountain and using the existing Lake Hattie as lower reservoir. It also would include the 240-MW Wild Horse Canyon Pumped-Storage development with a new 10,300-acre-foot upper reservoir and a new lower reservoir. The project also would have five 14-MW conventional hydro plants built on the pipeline.

Wind plant owners complain to FERC as BPA again curtails wind for excess hydropower

Pacific Northwest wind power generators filed a new complaint against Bonneville Power Administration with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in April, even as BPA again ordered wind plants to cease generating to make room on the grid for free excess federal hydropower.

Wind energy producers, led by Iberdrola Resources LLC, filed a supplemental protest with FERC April 30, arguing that BPA had failed to comply with a December FERC order to submit an Open Access Transmission Tariff to govern its relationship with generators that use the BPA transmission system.

FERC ruled in December that the federal transmission operator must stop curtailing wind generators in favor of its own hydropower without compensating the wind projects for lost production tax credits, renewable energy credits, and revenue from power purchase agreements.

The wind generators, who have no fuel costs, filed a complaint with FERC in June 2011 urging it to stop BPA from using its transmission monopoly power to curtail competing generators in an "unduly discriminatory manner."

The agency said it acted to protect salmon and steelhead from high dissolved gas concentrations in water that bypasses turbines. It said the action also maintained the reliability of the power grid and avoided shifting costs to BPA customers. It stopped the practice when flows returned to normal in July 2011. However, BPA resumed wind curtailments April 29. Under the oversupply management protocol, submitted to FERC in March, BPA first would work with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Bureau of Reclamation to manage federal hydroelectric generation and spill water up to dissolved gas limits.

BPA then would offer low-cost or free hydropower to replace the output of thermal and other power plants, with the expectation that many would voluntarily reduce generation to save fuel costs.

If hydropower supply still exceeds demand, BPA would then reduce the output of remaining generation within its system, including wind energy, in order of least cost, BPA says. It says it would compensate the affected generation for lost revenues, including renewable energy credits and production tax credits.

The wind generators complained such an arrangement is inadequate without an Open Access Transmission Tariff to govern their access to the grid.

Hydropower could help develop Ontario job market

Hydroelectricity could help create new jobs in Ontario's industrial sector following implementation of the province's Industrial Electricity Incentive program. The plan, implemented by Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty, will allow eligible companies to qualify for reduced power rates if they create new jobs and bring investments to the province.

Ontario currently exports its surplus hydroelectric power to neighboring provinces and states, so the program would be a revenue-generating venture, officials say. Energy Minister Chris Bentley says details concerning rates will be announced in the fall and that it should begin at the start of 2013.

Vermont lawmakers following Colorado's lead for small hydro development

A bill that would benefit hydropower developers in Vermont is making its way toward Gov. Peter Shumlin's desk.

In recent years, Vermont utilities have imported an increasing amount of electricity from outside sources, but the legislation aims to keep production within the state's borders by making it easier for small hydro projects to gain approval from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. The measure would require Vermont's commissioner of public service to enter into an agreement with FERC to approve small hydro projects. The plan is similar to one already enacted in Colorado, which has resulted in approval times for many small hydropower projects of months instead of years.

The proposal says this would be particularly advantageous for Vermont because a 2008 report indicates the bulk of the state's estimated 434 MW of hydropower potential would come from facilities that would qualify for FERC exemption.

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