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      Thoughts on Obama's Climate Change memorandum

      June 26, 2013 2:49 PM by Michael Harris, Online Editor, HydroWorld.com

      It's apparent that President Barack Obama's new climate change plan could potentially have a significant and lasting impact on renewable energy production, but exactly what that means for the hydropower industry is about as clear as silt.

      The President's Climate Action Plan, unveiled yesterday at Georgetown University, is an executive directive designed to reduce carbon dioxide emissions at America's new and existing power plants.

      The landmark proposal builds on Obama's 2009 commitment to reducing U.S. greenhouse gas emissions 17% below 2005 levels by 2020, though the United States -- unlike a growing number of other countries -- has yet to adopt a federally mandated standard for power plant carbon pollution.

      And though reducing emissions at fossil-fueled plants is clearly the largest focus of the plan, the memorandum notes that augmenting or replacing those sources with renewable ones will be an important part of achieving that goal.

      The crux in any discussion of "renewable" as it pertains to matters of energy policy, however, is whether hydropower is included in that definition or not.

      Fortunately in this instance, hydroelectricity is -- though how it figures into the plan isn't entirely clear.

      So, just a few initial reactions to Obama's memorandum, which is available via the White House here:                                                                                                       

      1. Though the document includes sections titled "Promoting American Leadership in Renewable Energy" and "Unlocking Long-Term Investment in Clean Energy Innovation", the plan seems more concerned with capping emissions from existing and new fossil fuel plants than pushing an all-out transition to green sources. To be sure, they're baby steps in the right direction, but I can't help but think there could have been more of an emphasis on cultivating newer, cleaner resources rather than slapping some regulations on the polluting fleet we already have.
      2. Hydropower is included in the plan, though it seems to take a backseat to solar, wind and geothermal sources. And though I know a variety of energy sources are necessary in maintaining a modern, stable grid, it seems curious to me that a commodity so proven and relatively cheap as hydroelectric power wouldn't be front and center in any discussion about renewable development.
      3. The memorandum's one concrete mention of hydropower -- that is, encouraging the development of hydroelectric power at existing dams -- hits the proverbial nail on the head and seems like a complete no-brainer. Whether many of the pieces of legislation currently making their way through the Senate are a reflection of that realization or vice-versa, point is that there are thousands of existing, unutilized infrastructure points on federal lands that could be converted to produce hydroelectricity.
      4. It's interesting to me that the document mentions a Department of Defense (which is, according to the memorandum, the largest consumer of energy in the U.S.) plan to deploy 3 GW of renewable energy on military installations by 2025. Though this plan includes solar, wind, biomass and geothermal sources, it omits hydro. My assumption is that as forms of distributed generation, they're more conducive to localized use than hydropower -- but still. I'm surprised there's no opportunities for Department of Defense hydropower usage somewhere.

      The memorandum's reception around the industry seems to be generally positive, as it should be. After all, the mere fact that hydropower is being included amongst other renewables should be considered a victory for the industry.

      But as always, I'm interested to hear what others think. So, what do you think?

      Giving honor where it is due

      June 19, 2013 8:14 AM by Bethany Duarte

      As all of us in the Hydro Group gear up for HydroVision International (a little than a month to go!), I am personally looking forwarding to attending for the very first time.

      Yes, I’m a HydroVision rookie!

      I’ve learned so much about the event from behind the scenes over the last 11 months, and am excited for all of you to see what we have put together for you this year. The technical paper and panel presentations are top notch, as are the plant tours, one of which I’m happy to go on with you!

      There is so much to see and do at HydroVision with all of the co-located events and networking opportunities, but one feature I wanted to highlight that I love about our event is the Wall of Honor.

      For those who have not yet seen it, the Wall of Honor is a traveling memorial that honors our nation’s prized veterans in the energy industry at each of PennWell’s energy events. The Wall stands as an ever-growing tribute to our wonderful servicemen and women, regardless of branch, current duty, or rank. The Wall displays the name, branch, and company of each individual honored.

      As the granddaughter of two Korean war veterans, and a lifelong student of American military history, this memorial hits a soft spot in me, as it does for so many in the United States and the electric power industry.

      As I’ve traveled and met with so many of you, I’ve noticed the intense brother and sisterhood of the hydropower industry, and the strong connection between you all. Seeing the number of hydro professionals that have served our country and defended our freedom cements that bond even more so.

      In my studies of military history, an important common denominator tying soldiers together across lines of rank and branch is the intense bond of loyalty and sacrifice that characterizes a member of the United States military. This bond saved many a life on the battlefield and front lines of war, and makes these vets the high quality employees that now fill the ranks of the hydro industry and larger electric power industry.

      That is a characteristic that we at PennWell and HydroVision International feel should be honored. Not only is our own CEO, Robert Biolchini, a Vietnam-era vet, Senior Vice President Richard Baker of our Power Group has a son who served two tours of duty for the United States Air Force in Iraq. Our ties to the military are strong and something we feel is important to celebrate and remember.

      The Wall of Honor first debuted as a way to honor and pay tribute to these amazing men and women in December 2011 at PennWell’s POWER-GEN International event in Las Vegas with nominations submitted online by vets and their family members throughout the United States. The Wall will be shown at HydroVision International with even more names and soldiers to honor and remember for their sacrifice.

      While the nominating process has ended for this year’s HydroVision International, nominations are still open for POWER-GEN International in November 2013 at http://www.power-gen.com/wall-of-honor.html.

      Please be sure to come by and see the Wall in Denver and pay tribute to your fellow Americans and industry members for their valiant and loyal service to our country.

      Pastrami on Rye and the Oklahoma City Thunder

      June 11, 2013 2:59 PM by Bethany Duarte, Associate Editor, Hydro Review Magazine

      As an editor, I have the privilege of traveling all over North America attending tradeshows, conferences, symposiums and summits, meeting many of you in the process. We talk hydropower, HydroVision, industry news, and if it’s raining, how good of a day it is for the industry.

      As a small town girl from Oklahoma however, it’s like taking a mini-vacation once a month. I try to take advantage of my business travel and take in the sights, sounds, tastes, and culture of the places I visit.

      Something special happens when you ask a native dweller of a city or state what they are most proud of or what I should be sure to experience while I’m there. They come alive! I love seeing the pride blossom on their face. From food recommendations to tourist attractions to hole-in-the-wall gems that make their city unique, I’ve heard it all.

      This native Okie enjoys every minute of it.

      And I can relate to the sense of pride whenever that same person asks about my home state, my beloved Oklahoma. Of course, they first ask about tornadoes, Indians (“No, we don’t live in teepees anymore”), country music, and if I’ve met Garth Brooks (I’ve actually sang next to him at church). But then I get to talk about our rich Native American history, fantastic farm-raised meat and produce, Kevin Durant and the OKC Thunder, and most of all, our compassionate, resilient, and friendly people.

      One topic I always enjoy discussing when I travel is, of course, hydropower. The question of what I do that allows me to travel usually comes up, and when I mention hydropower, the reaction is quite diverse.

      In Ottawa or Niagara Falls, people nod and smile. Hydropower is a common term and an industry that is supported. One lady in an Ottawa boutique responded with, “And we definitely love hydropower here.”

      When in Phoenix, the word “hydropower” connected immediately to “Hoover Dam,” due to the regional proximity of the well known dam and hydropower plant.

      The question came up last week while I was in New York City attending the National Hydropower Association’s Hydropower Finance Summit. I ventured out to the World Trade Center Memorial and engaged in a conversation with two of the security guards as I was leaving. In between their recommendations on dinner locations and the best pizza in all the burroughs, they asked what brought me to New York. When I responded, I received a reaction that both excited me and saddened me.

      “What’s hydropower?”

      As an editor of two hydropower-focused publications, I’m used to speaking about hydropower with others who understand it even better than I do. But what I’ve come to realize through my travels is that the response I received in New York is not at all uncommon. Growing up in oil and natural gas-rich Oklahoma, I myself did not have an understanding of hydropower until I joined the industry as an adult.

      So the question I pose is this: what are we doing as an industry to show our pride in hydropower?

      In the same way that those New Yorkers were quick to tell me the best spot for pastrami on rye and the most scenic places to stop and take pictures, how quick are we as an industry to share about hydropower, this energy source that we are so passionate about, to those outside the industry?

      In the business-to-business media industry, we focus on just that, communicating to those already in the industry. So targeting anyone outside of that realm is just not within the scope of my work.

      However, when I told these two security guards from Brooklyn and Queens about the benefits of hydropower, they were beyond curious, they were engaged. Those men had a say in which senators voted on the hydropower bills that are on their way to the President’s desk. Those men have a say on the state and local energy matters that come up on ballots occasionally. However indirectly, those men have a say in hydropower.

      This and other instances like it lead me to think that we as an industry need to be talking about hydropower the same way New Yorkers do about the Yankees and pastrami on rye and the way Oklahomans do about our rich Native American culture, chicken fried steak and the Oklahoma City Thunder – as a point of pride in our industry and in our renewable energy future.

      This is quite a task, but I would love to hear what you all are thinking about it. Is it time to stretch out a bit and widen our message?

      They Love Us, They Love Us Not

      June 4, 2013 2:36 PM by Michael Harris, Online Editor, HydroWorld.com

      I had a reporting professor during my first semester as a journalism major who, in an effort to teach a class of aspiring 18-year old Joseph Pulitzers not to take everything at face value, was fond of starting the year with a lecture he'd titled, "Your Mother Says She Loves You, But How Do You Really Know?"

      For a generation of would-be journalists whose concepts of reporting are based more on the practices of Perez Hilton than Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, the question seemed -- and still seems -- entirely asinine, but even for those not of Generation X, supplying a definitive answer might prove more difficult than it appears.

      The immediate (and common) gut reaction was that our mothers love us because they tell us they love us, to which we were asked, "Yes, but how do you really know your mothers are telling the truth?"

      The answer was, invariably, that we just knew, and again we were asked, "But are you sure?"

      Granted, the exercise wasn't intended to foster feelings of mother/child insecurity, but rather, to demonstrate that simplicity in even the most basic of questions and statements almost always belies a need for tangible, empirical supporting evidence.

      It was perhaps inevitable then that I immediately thought of this lecture when American Municipal Power President and CEO Marc Gerken emphatically told me "I love hydro" during the National Hydropower Association Annual Conference in April.

      Gerken, now president of the NHA, said his affection for hydro power comes not only for his company's need to provide energy for its customers, but also due to its non-existent fuel costs and lack of a waste stream.

      "This is a great asset because as a CEO, you have headaches with carbon, you have headaches with fuel, you have headaches with environmental permitting," Gerken said.

      Speaking purely in terms as a member of the cynical media then, I’d say that Gerken’s remarks -- though nice -- are nothing without substance, and certainly, Gerken is making sure AMP is doing its part to give credence to his words.

      The utility currently generates 16% of its power through hydroelectricity, and that percentage will continue to increase.

      "It's not state-mandated," Gerken said. "We just feel it’s the right thing to do."

      The attitude is not one held exclusively by AMP, and I’ve written at length about the many pieces of legislature currently making their way through the United States Congress that would further improve opportunities for hydroelectric development.

      Luckily for the industry, however, is that the international community is taking -- or perhaps more accurately, retaking -- note of hydro power and its role in energy production, water supply and flood control.

      Nowhere was this more evident than at the International Hydropower Association’s World Congress this past month where the World Bank announced the reversal of its two-decade long practice of shunning large hydro project investments.

      Though the bank had continued to finance smaller projects through the years, large projects like Africa’s 4,000-GW Grand Inga would have almost certainly been snubbed as they didn’t fit the bank’s development goals.

      Now, however, the World Bank says all hydropower plants are an essential means of providing power, building industry, providing potable water, encouraging agriculture and decreasing carbon emissions -- particularly in the world’s most impoverished of nations, where hydroelectric projects provide an economical means of supplying all those ends.

      So, given the emphasis I’ve made on putting one's money where their mouths are, the World Bank is doing that in literal terms with more than US$1 billion invested in large hydropower projects alone since revising its investment strategies in the early 2000s.

      And just as AMP is not the only utility showing its love for hydro power, neither is the World Bank the only global lending institution showing its love for hydro power.

      Just what this "love" ultimately means for the hydropower industry still remains to be seen, but at the very least, the answer to "How do you know?" is perhaps becoming a bit clearer.