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Breaking News: Hydro Currents

New report examines two-year progress of federal hydropower initiative

A report released by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, U.S. Department of Energy and U.S. Department of the Interior details the two-year progress of a memorandum of understanding for hydropower.

The MOU, signed in March 2010, contains 13 high-level goals and 17 specific action items that were targeted toward helping America's "development of clean, reliable, cost-effective and sustainable hydropower generation," according to the report.

The report says through collaboration and partnerships with other federal agencies, many goals have been achieved, some of which are:

- Complete publicly available assessments of different hydropower resources, including a construction database for all existing U.S. hydropower infrastructure;

- Collaborate in developing tools for the optimization of hydropower facilities and evaluate the potential for state-of-the-art upgrades and modernizations;

- Fund research projects aimed at developing and demonstrating new hydropower generation technologies;

- Examine climate change effects on water availability for hydropower generation at federal facilities;

- Establish the Federal Inland Hydropower Working Group;

- Coordinate a stakeholder-driven, basin-scale opportunity assessment in the Deschutes River basin; and

- Improve licensing procedures for the development of privately owned hydro at federal dams and water infrastructure.

The report notes that hydropower represents the majority of renewable energy capacity utilized in the U.S.

House subcommittee hears testimony on hydropower regulatory legislation

The Subcommittee of the House Energy and Commerce Committee held a hearing on draft legislation that would improve the regulatory framework for hydropower development. The bipartisan bill - called the Hydropower Regulatory Efficiency Act of 2012 - was introduced by representatives Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.) and Diane DeGette (D-Colo.).

Contained in the bill are 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, to allow a permittee sufficient time to develop and file a license application.

Currently, the licensing of hydropower projects can take long-er than other forms of renewable energy, according to testimony given by former National Hydropower Association president and Grant County Public Utility District official Andrew Munro. Other resources - including wind and natural gas - have shorter approval time frames, putting hydropower at a competitive disadvantage when securing investment, Munro says, adding, "Simply put, conducting business as usual will not work."

NHA, citing a recent U.S. Department of Energy study, says more than 12,000 MW of hydropower potential exists at the America's 54,000 existing non-powered dams.

A Navigant Consulting report shows 60,000 MW of hydroelectric capacity and 1 million jobs could be created by 2025, should the nation make hydropower development a priority.

BPA, BC Hydro agree on new water storage treaty

A new long-term agreement between the Bonneville Power Administration and BC Hydro will help shape the environmental and economic health of the Northwest.

The new Non-Treaty Storage Agreement, which extends to September 2024, calls for the use of "additional reservoir flow shaping capability on the upper Columbia River in Canada to provide safer flows for protected fish" while also supporting power generation. The agreement benefits threatened and endangered fish by providing flexibility for BPA to reduce the flow of water from Mica Dam in the spring, then increasing the flow in the summer when Columbia River flows are low.

BPA says the agreement will also allow it to release up to 500,000 acre-feet of water for fish in the spring, which is in addition to the flows already provided for under the Columbia River Treaty of 1964.

Ciocci: Hydropower's future strong, industry vital to U.S. energy policy

Despite the uncertainty of election year politics and several hydropower-related measures currently under consideration by the U.S. Congress, the future of hydroelectricity is bright, according to National Hydropower Association Executive Director Linda Church Ciocci. Ciocci, speaking in the opening session of the NHA's 2012 Annual Conference held in April 2012 in Washington, D.C., assured the more than 500 industry representatives that hydroelectricity will be a key component in America's power production strategy.

"Despite all of this uncertainty and the indecision that often comes with election year politics, there is one bright and certain light," Ciocci says. "Hydropower has a tremendous future. It is the foundation on which our clean energy future rests."

Hydropower's reliability, cleanliness, flexibility and availability were cited by Ciocci as factors advantageous to the industry's growth, and even though unanswered questions regarding tax credits, emission standards, permitting processes and infrastructure development loom, Ciocci says she is confident the hydroelectric sector will remain strong.

FERC's ILP guide to help stakeholders draft hydro study requests

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has issued a guide to its integrated licensing process to help stakeholders draft requests for pre-licensing studies by hydro license applicants.

FERC began evaluating the effectiveness of the ILP process in 2010. The agency convened representatives of the various parties to the hydroelectric licensing process in November 2010 to discuss the effectiveness of the ILP, which was created to provide a more streamlined and efficient means of obtaining a license.

FERC acknowledged it is difficult to reach agreement on studies in some cases. It noted most comments it received during its ILP evaluation focused on the study plan development process and the need for greater clarity on how the commission applies its study criteria in evaluating study requests.

Department of Energy seeks facilities for hydropower advancement assessment program

The U.S. Department of Energy is asking hydroelectric project operators to open their plants for assessment as part of its Hydropower Advancement Project.

DOE estimates that an additional 8 to 16 GW of hydropower capacity can be produced annually through "cost effective and sustainable upgrades" at existing facilities. The department is using voluntary HAP assessments to "identify opportunities to increase generation and value through improvements and expansions."

The assessments will be performed by DOE teams at no cost to the facility owners, the agency says. In return, facility owners will receive a report that provides estimates for increased generation potential, the costs and benefits of improvement activities, and recommendations for additional studies as needed.

DOE says the reports will also include a description of the facility and the site-specific environmental and operating constraints that affect its generation and value. Interested parties are asked to submit a facility data sheet and a letter of commitment stating the owners are willing to volunteer their facility and will cooperate with the assessment team. Responses are due June 25, 2012.

Senate committee endorses president's FERC nominees Norris, Clark

The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee has endorsed the nominations of John Norris and Anthony Clark to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

The full Senate next is to consider the nominations by President Barack Obama of Norris, a Democrat, to a second FERC term and Clark, a Republican, to a first term on the five-member utility regulator.

The committee endorsed the nominations April 26 after the nominees testified before the panel in March.

Norris, a lawyer and state utility regulator from Iowa, was first named to the commission by Obama in 2009. His initial term expires this year. Clark, who has served on the North Dakota Public Service Commission since 2001, was named to succeed Commissioner Marc Spitzer, who left FERC in December.

No more than three members of the same party may serve on the five-member commission.

NHA unveils comprehensive hydropower 'snapshot'

The National Hydropower Association has released an interactive tool designed to demonstrate how hydropower benefits the nation's local communities and economies.

NHA's "U.S. Hydropower Supply Chain Snapshot," unveiled at the association's annual conference in April 2012 in Washington, D.C., features nearly 2,000 companies in the non-federal hydro supply chain.

The organization says these companies include "small, medium and large firms, and range from project developers to construction companies; architecture and engineering firms to electricians; and component manufacturers to biologists."

And while the snapshot confirms the industry's strength in regions long considered hotbeds of hydro activity, NHA Executive Director Linda Church Ciocci says the things revealed elsewhere surprise her the most. "For example, the map details over 415 companies in southeastern states like Alabama and Georgia and more than 583 companies in Rust Belt states like Ohio, Pennsylvania and Illinois," Ciocci says. "Many of these are 'red states,' or states where conventional wisdom says there's no clean energy."

The snapshot also demonstrates the diversity of companies and jobs within the hydropower industry, Ciocci says.

On the flipside, the snapshot also shows what the industry could lose. "You can clearly see which parts of the country stand to lose if our elected officials fail to provide a predictable energy policy environment for our industry," Ciocci says.

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