Small hydro legislation inches forward
by Samantha Wright
Jun 14, 2012 | 1160 views | 0 0 comments | 4 4 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Small hydro advocates across the country are one baby step closer toward their goal of loosening the federal regulatory noose strangling their industry.

On June 7, the Energy and Power Subcommittee of the House Energy and Commerce Committee approved the Hydropower Regulatory Efficiency Act of 2012 on a voice vote with no objections and no amendments. 

“There was praise from both sides of the aisle for the bipartisan cooperation shown on the bill by committee staff and for the leadership by Reps. McMorris Rodgers (R-WA) and DeGette (D-CO),” noted Kurt Johnson, who has advocated for the passage of the bill. Johnson is the President of the Colorado Small Hydro Association and Principal at Telluride Energy, a small hydro development and consulting firm.

Johnson added that there are also six new additional original co-sponsors: Reps. John Dingell (D-MI), Ed Markey (D-MA), Jim Matheson (D-UT), Lee Terry (R-NE), Bob Latta (R-OH) and Lamar Smith (R-TX), showcasing the support for the common-sense legislation from both sides of the aisle.

The bill has also earned support from both environmentalists and representatives of the hydroelectric industry.

The Hydropower Regulatory Efficiency Act of 2012, or HR 3680, would among other things eliminate Federal Energy Regulatory Commission involvement for non-controversial small (under 5 MW) conduit projects following a 45-day FERC public noticing period.

A conduit project is one that is built on existing infrastructure, such as a pipeline, ditch or canal. The potential for conduit projects is particularly vast in the mountains of southwestern Colorado.

“Every small town in the mountains has got a pipeline for their water supply that goes up the hill,” Johnson pointed out. “Not having to get a FERC permit [to put a small hydro-electric generating plant on such existing infrastructure] would be a massive boost,” he said.

Johnson and others in the industry have testified that the FERC licensing process is particularly burdensome for such small potential projects, where the cost of FERC compliance can potentially exceed the cost of hydro equipment.

According to Johnson, the next steps for the bill are consideration by the full House Energy and Commerce Committee, followed by consideration on the House floor. “Our goal has been to make it so bipartisan and widely supported that there wouldn’t be any controversy at all, in which case it may be possible to get it on the consent calendar on the House side,” he said. Similar legislation is wending its way through the Senate.

Johnson is taking the long view on the bill’s ultimate fate.

“Given everything that’s happened to date on the House side, I’m optimistic of its eventual success,” he said. “This permitting barrier has been around for decades so the fact that things have gotten to where they are is fabulous news; we need to be grateful for small steps as they come. What’s noteworthy is, in a political environment that is extremely partisan, there does seem to be bipartisan agreement about the hydro bill.”
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