NHA Responds to Revised Senate Energy Bill, Calls on Congress to Pass Hydropower Provisions

Washington, D.C. (November 28, 2016) – The following is a statement from Linda Church Ciocci, Executive Director of the National Hydropower Association, on the U.S. Senate’s revisions to the Energy Policy Modernization Act of 2015 (S.2012):

“For over two years, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have worked to craft bipartisan hydropower provisions to modernize the licensing process, while protecting environmental values. The Senate’s proposed compromise on an energy Conference Report marks a pivotal point in reaching bipartisan comprehensive energy legislation. We urge House and Senate Energy Bill Conferees to pass this bill as it brings increased predictability, coordination and timeliness to the hydropower regulatory process.

“Improving the process means designating the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission as the lead agency for purposes of coordinating permits, and enhancing schedule discipline by involving all federal and state regulators much earlier in the approval process and providing opportunities to collaborate and resolve any disputes. Without these commonsense solutions in place, the outmoded and outdated process of permitting hydropower projects will continue to take up to a decade or longer.

“Congress has an opportunity to unlock hydropower’s clean energy potential, enhance the existing hydro system, and promote responsible new energy infrastructure development. Passage will also put the nation on the path to making the U.S. Department of Energy’s vision of sustainably growing hydropower by 50GW by 2050 a reality. However, expanding the nation’s largest source of renewable electricity, while creating jobs, won’t occur until we bring the regulatory process into the 21st century. Now is the time to secure America’s clean energy future.”


The Hill Op-ed: Hitting the Reset Button: Hydropower’s Pathway to Growth

The Hill

Will hydropower play a greater role in our clean energy future? With the release of the U.S. Department of Energy’s Hydropower Vision report, it is an important question that Congress should be asking.

Breaking long held misconceptions, the Energy Department’s report, a first-of-its-kind roadmap for future growth, hits the reset button on the current perception of hydropower in America. It found that hydropower’s capacity can sustainably increase by nearly 50 gigawatts by 2050 – more than doubling our nation’s energy storage and facilitating the growth of more wind and solar.

Hydropower isn’t tapped out – not by a longshot. It isn’t yesterday’s technology. And it can play a much larger role in reducing the nation’s carbon footprint.
For example, non-powered dams were identified as one pathway to growth. Ninety-seven percent of existing dams in the country are not equipped to generate power. In what can be described as a conservative analysis, the report states that we can add 4.8 gigawatts of capacity to the electric grid – enough to power nearly 5 million more homes and businesses.

Retrofitting existing dams is already making an impact. Forty-five miles southeast of Des Moines, Iowa, on the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ existing Red Rock dam, Missouri River Energy Services is developing a new hydroelectric facility that will harness 36 megawatts of new electricity – enough to power 18,000 homes.

And in Ohio, American Municipal Power recently brought online the Meldahl Hydroelectric facility on the Ohio River with an estimated capacity of 105 MW, joining three other facilities that total 300 MW of new generation.

While the Energy Department’s report also calls for upgrading facilities and ramping up new stream-reach development, it hones in on hydropower’s core value – flexibility. Flexibility, along with other attributes such as load following and balancing grid frequency, may sound dull and overly technical. But these features help to keep the grid secure, while making sure that electricity is there when we need it.

Hydropower also facilitates the growth of other renewables like wind and solar. Pumped storage, which the report finds can grow by 36 gigawatts, enables greater integration of wind and solar into the grid by storing energy during times of low use, and utilizing that energy during peak demand or periods of diminished wind and solar usage.

Reaching 50 GW by 2050, however, isn’t an abstract concept. It has real-world implications. According to the Hydropower Vision report, we could reduce greenhouse gases and other emissions by 5.6 billion metric tons, support 195,000 jobs and avoid 30 trillion gallons of water use – the equivalent of 45 million Olympic-size pools.

50 by 2050 also means nearly 5 million fewer cases of acute respiratory symptoms, and over 300,000 fewer cases of childhood upper respiratory symptoms.

While the benefits are many, the report also puts the need to modernize hydropower’s licensing process into clearer focus. A substantial barrier to hydropower meeting its potential is the length and uncertainty in the licensing process, which makes it difficult for hydropower to attract investment.

Today, a natural gas plant can be permitted in as little as two years, while clean hydropower facilities can take up to ten years or more.

Under the status quo, the process lacks timely coordination between federal and state agencies, resulting in conflicting priorities and deferred decision-making that delays real environmental improvements and places projects in limbo for months or years at a time.

To address some of these concerns, Congress has made significant progress on the Energy Policy Modernization Act (S. 2012). The bill contains provisions that would make the licensing process more timely, more coherent, and more collaborative. Most importantly, they would neither repeal nor undercut the timely exercise of authority by any state or federal resource agency to administer the Endangered Species Act, Clean Water Act, or any other federal environmental law.

Now, all that stands in the way of the bill becoming law is an agreement by the Energy Conference Committee in Congress to a modified bill and the President’s signature.

In the end, the Hydropower Vision report presents the nation with a very clear choice to make. Are we going to put more clean energy on the table, or severely limit our opportunities to meet our global promise and reduce greenhouse gases?

Congress has the opportunity to put us on a path to unlocking hydropower’s potential.

Linda Church Ciocci is the executive director of the National Hydropower Association.

Industry Leaders Call for Energy Bill to Include Licensing Improvements

As the Energy Congressional Conference Committee prepares to resolve the differences between the House and Senate energy bills (Energy Policy Modernization Act S. 2012), the National Hydropower Association (NHA), American Public Power Association (APPA), Edison Electric Institute (EEI), Large Public Power Council (LPPC), and National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA) urged conferees to include provisions to modernize the hydropower licensing process. 

In the letter, they called for the following priority improvements to be included in the final conference report:

  • Directing the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to lead the coordination of the many approvals needed for hydropower projects and to work with agencies and other licensing participants to set timely schedules;
  • Holding all participants to the schedule by including mechanisms that provide consequences for undue or unjustified delays, while also providing sufficient resources and time for decision‐ makers to complete their work
  • Protecting and improving on the important licensing improvements achieved in the Energy Policy Act of 2005 for trial‐type hearing and alternative conditions
  • Clarifying that certain mandatory conditioning authority is limited to addressing actual project effects
  • Providing new, more efficient approval processes for targeted categories of much needed and low‐impact projects, such as environmentally beneficial license amendments, building on non‐ powered dams, and closed‐loop pumped storage

50 by 2050: Pathways for Growth

The U.S. Energy Department's Hydropower Vision Report shows that clean and renewable hydropower is available and can play a larger role in securing our clean energy future. The report finds that hydropower’s capacity can increase by nearly 50 gigawatts by 2050 in the following areas:

  •  4.8 GW of new development on non-powered dams
  •  6.3 GW in upgrades on existing hydropower
  •  35.5 GW of new pumped storage projects
  •  1.7 GW in new stream-reach development

Forbes: DOE Vows To Expand Hydropower in America

James Conca

August 5, 2016

Last week, the Department of Energy, under President Obama, released a plan to expand hydropower by 50% through electrifying existing dams and emplacing pumped hydro storage at existing non-powered dams to facilitate more intermittent renewables like wind and solar onto the electric grid.

According to DOE’s Hydropower Vision, the United States could increase its hydropower electricity generation capacity from about 100 GW to 150 GW by 2050 by energizing existing dams (dams that presently have no ability to produce power), upgrading plants already producing power with more capacity, and constructing new pumped hydro storage facilities to support renewables.

Click here to read the article

Green Tech Media: The DOE’s Path to an American Hydropower Renaissance

Julian Spector
July 27, 2016

Hydropower is coming back.

That, more or less, is the takeaway from the results of a massive two-and-a-half-year study released by the Department of Energy Tuesday. Hydropower Vision asserts that there is a viable pathway to drastically expand “America’s first renewable electricity source,” breaking the period of static hydropower growth that has persisted for the last two decades.

Click to Read Article

Hitting the Reset Button: Hydropower’s Vision for Growth

The U.S. Department of Energy’s newly released report, Hydropower Vision: A New Chapter for America’s 1st Renewable Electricity Source, projects that hydropower can grow by 50 GW of capacity by 2050. Reaching this target would power millions more homes and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by billions of metric tons, all while more than doubling the nation’s energy storage. This first-of-its kind analysis demonstrates that hydropower’s growth potential real and tangible. 

In Congress, we are close making this a reality. The energy bill (Energy Policy Modernization Act S. 2012), which contains provisions to bring the process into the 21st century, is currently being debated by a Congressional Conference Committee. However, to get this bill signed into law we need your voice. We encourage you to reach out to your member of Congress and encourage them to unlockhydro.

As a nation, we have a clear choice to make about our clean energy future. Will we stand still or unlock hydropower’s potential?

Senate Passes Energy Bill to UnlockHydro

With the nation searching for clean energy solutions, the Senate overwhelmingly passed an energy bill to UnlockHydro. The Energy Policy Modernization Act (S. 2012) contains bipartisan hydropower licensing provisions designed to make the process more timely, coherent and collaborative. Currently, it can take up to a decade or more to permit the nation’s largest source of renewable electricity.  Click here to read bill provisions

Without question, policymakers and clean energy advocates are recognizing hydropower's value, its growth potential and the role it can play in fighting climate change. Bringing predictability and coordination to the licensing process is good public policy that will help the nation to further reduce its carbon footprint.

While today’s passage is a significant step forward, we still need to work to ensure the final legislation signed by the President breaks the status quo that is stifling investment in existing hydropower projects and new development.

Click on the TAKE ACTION button to send a letter to your Congressman. Together, we can UnlockHydro!

127 Companies and Organizations Express Support for Hydropower

Recently, 127 companies and organizations throughout the country sent a letter to House and Senate leadership to express their collective support for hydropower, the nation’s largest renewable electricity resource, and advancing the bipartisan work underway in Congress to modernize the hydropower regulatory process.

In the letter, they stress that in an “all of the above” energy strategy, hydropower is, and must continue to be, an indispensable resource to reduce carbon emissions and provide flexible electricity production.

Click here to read the letter

Real Clean Energy: Hydro Dammed Up by Regulations

Hydro Dammed Up by Regulations

William Tucker

Real Clear Energy

December 4, 2015


“I was talking with someone in the nuclear industry the other day and he said, `Gee, I didn’t realize you people were having the same problems we have.’ When it comes to getting through the permit process, we’re not much different from nuclear.”

So says Jeff Leahey, deputy executive director of the National Hydropower Association, the Washington lobbying group that supports the hydroelectric industry. NHA finds this particularly frustrating since it is in the midst of a revival that involves retrofitting existing dams with hydropower.

“Hydro is handicapped by an outdated licensing process that lacks coordination between federal and state agencies,” says LeRoy Coleman, senior manager of communications at NHA. “The result is duplicate reviews, conflicting priorities and deferred decision-making that delays real environmental improvements. These roadblocks are pushing the licensing process for some plants to nearly a decade.”

Hydropower projects deal mainly with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), which has authority over all hydroelectric projects. But there are nearly half a dozen federal and state agencies that must be brought into the process as well. The National Fish and Wildlife Service, the Environmental Protection Agency plus various state agencies concerned with the environment and water courses have their hand in as well.

“Under the status quo, state and federal resource agencies often fail to complete their important obligations under federal environmental laws within a reasonable timeframe,” says Coleman. “As a result, a proposed project can be rejected simply through an agency’s failure to make a decision. It may take ten years to get through the process.”

This timeframe exists both for new hydroelectric dams and for retrofitting older ones to electricity, which is the Association’s main interest right now. “Under normal circumstances, the process takes about five years to complete,” says Leahey. “The average natural gas combined cycle plant takes only 18-24 months start to finish. Now compare ten years with 24 months. The uncertainty of the process is what makes it difficult for hydropower to attract investment.”

The delays are particularly frustrating since the industry believes it has enormous contribution to make in the search for clean power sources. Two years ago, Oak Ridge National Laboratory published a paper published noting that the U.S. has a potential of 12 gigawatts – that’s 12,000 megawatts – in existing dams that were not built for hydroelectricity. The Army Corps of Engineers and other federal agencies have been busy building these dams over the last 50 years. There are now 80,000 such sites around the country, yet only 3 percent of them are producing power. If fitted for electricity, the dams would provide enough juice to power over four million homes.

“The common perception is that hydro in this country is pretty well tapped out because the growth curve over the last 20 years has been pretty flat,” says Leahey. “But there’s still enormous potential in dams that have already been constructed but haven’t been outfitted for hydroelectricity. Now that the focus has turned to clean energy investment, we’re seeing a revival of interest in hydropower.”

The biggest source of potential is in the network of lock-and-lift dams build along the valleys of the Ohio, Mississippi, Alabama and Arkansas Rivers. The map published by Oak Ridge National Laboratory shows these river valleys virtually clogged with sites awaiting improvement. The ten top sites have the potential for 3 GW and the top 100 sites together could potentially provide 8 GW of renewable energy.

Work has already begun on a few of these sites. Along the Ohio the Cannelton Dam in Indiana, the Smithland Dam in Livingston County, Kentucky and the Meldahl Dam in Braden County, Kentucky have already been retrofitted for 88 MW, 76 MW and 111 MW respectively. Two additional Army Corps of Engineer candidates for development are the Willow Island Dam in Pleasants County, West Virginia and the RC Byrd Dam in Gallipolis Ferry, West Virginia. They would provide 44 MW and 48 MW respectively. These projects have gone through the arduous review process. The Department of Energy says there are currently 331 dam sites going through the review process, including one for a 700 MW project in Alaska. 

The effort to improve these dam sites has not been evaluated from an economic point of view. “The analysis did not consider the economic feasibility of developing each unpowered facility,” writes Boualem Hadjerioua, the principal investigator at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in a report titled “An Assessment of Energy Potential in Non-Powered Dams in the United States,”published two years ago. “The assessment provides preliminary information for stakeholders (such as developers, municipal planners, and policymakers) who can further evaluate the potential increase hydropower production at NPD sites.” But according to the National Hydropower Association, that potential is great and the economics are feasible.

There is one other factor that figures into the equation. Many environmental groups are currently touring the country campaigning to tear down existing dams. The Sierra Club managed to have a measure put on the ballot two years ago that would have torn down the Hetch-Hetchy Dam, which provides San Francisco with half its electricity and 2/3rds of its water. The referendum was soundly defeated.

Such groups function better in court and before regulatory agencies, however. Is there any possibility that they may set up roadblocks to the retrofitting of existing dams?

“For the most part we’ve been able to deal with them,” says Leahey. “The environmental impact is already there with the construction of the dam so there’s not too much at issue. In some cases we’ll agree to the closing of one older dam if we can double the power output of another in the neighborhood. So it comes out pretty even.”

NHA is currently backing legislation in Congress that would put FERC in charge of all the permitting and try to speed up the process. As with nuclear, it is the glacial pace of the review process that is holding the industry back. If the news coming out of Paris is of any significance, there’s much work to be done.

House Passes Bill to Bring Hydropower Licensing Process Into the 21st Century

Recognizing hydropower’s contribution to reducing the nation’s carbon footprint, the National Hydropower Association today applauded passage of the bipartisan hydropower regulatory improvement provisions as part of the North American Energy Security and Infrastructure Act (H.R.8). These provisions break the licensing process status quo that has stifled the growth of the nation’s largest source of renewable electricity.

The hydropower provisions are designed to make the process more timely, coherent and collaborative by promoting predictability and requiring timely decisions by regulators—all without narrowing the authorities of federal and state resources agencies and Indian tribes under existing federal environmental laws. 

Citylab: The Untapped Potential of America's Hydroelectric Power

The Untapped Potential of America's Hydroelectric Power

In its push for more renewable energy, the U.S. can do more to capitalize on the dams it’s already built.
Citylab (The Atlantic)
November 23, 2015

Wind and solar energy have grabbed headlines with their meteoric rise in recent years, but hydropower still provides far and away more energy than any other renewable source, accounting for 7 percent of total U.S. production. But there are only so many rivers to dam, and America did a pretty good job of that all throughout the 20th century. So it’s not uncommon to hear hydropower described as being “tapped out,” and indeed growth in hydro capacity has essentially flatlined since the early 1990s.

That’s starting to change, says Jeff Leahey, deputy executive director of the industry group National Hydropower Association. “The policy arena has shifted and there’s been more of a focus on clean energy investments and that’s driving people to look at hydro,” he tells CityLab. “Now we’re seeing that growth curve uptick again, when in the last 20 years it’s been pretty flat.”

As world leaders head to Paris for the most important climate negotiations in years, here are a few reasons why the U.S. should keep hydro in mind as a way to trim carbon emissions out of national energy production.

Steady, zero-carbon energy

Hydropower looks attractive to energy planners because it offers what’s called baseload power: steady and predictable generation that serves as the backbone of a diverse energy mix. Rivers keep on flowing day and night, and that keeps turbines spinning (barring catastrophic droughts, which are becoming more of an issue as climate change kicks up the heat). This steadiness makes hydropower an important counterpoint to the variability of wind and solar energy; their production goes up and down based on the weather, which makes it hard to depend heavily on them for the bulk of power generation.

Hydro is our best form of energy storage

As wind and solar continue their upward growth, the need for large-scale energy storage becomes ever more acute. That’s because we need to be able to store surplus energy from periods of intense wind and sunlight for use when the breeze dies and the sun goes down.

Engineers have developed a whole range of potential technologies for this task (Tesla’s Powerwall, for one, provoked an avalanche of reservations when it became available). But the only technology currently storing energy on a massive scale is as old as Archimedes: pumped water. The U.S. has about 22 gigawatts of pumped storage hydropower, which makes up a staggering 97 percent of utility-scale electricity storage, according to a Department of Energy report from 2014.

The way this works is you have two bodies of water, one higher than the other, with a dam in between them. When the grid is producing more power than what’s being consumed, a pumped storage facility can use that electricity to pump water from the lower basin to the upper one. When the facility needs to recover that energy, it releases the water, which falls to the lower basin, spinning a turbine and creating electricity.

All of this is to say that as variable sources make up a greater share of the nation’s power supply, the gap between high production and low production will increase, and energy suppliers will need more storage to bridge that gap. Pumped hydropower facilities have proven their ability to do just that.

There’s room to expand without building new dams

Constructing new dams is highly difficult, both for the capital costs of the actual construction and because they impose massive changes on a river’s ecosystem. But the vast majority of existing dams in the U.S.—more than 90 percent, or 80,000 dams—don’t produce electricity. They just hold back water, which can be useful for things like flood control, irrigation, and navigation.

“The dam has already been built, the impacts have already been felt,” Leahey says. “Those dams are going to be there for the long haul, but right now they’re just not generating any power. … We think that’s a prime opportunity for near-term growth in the hydropower industry.”

A 2012 Department of Energy report identified a total of 12 gigawatts of new hydropower to be built by retrofitting non-powered dams. That’s 15 percent of current hydropower capacity, or about half of all U.S. solar. And that capacity is more likely to be accepted by groups dedicated to protecting river ecosystems, which new dams do much to disrupt.

Kate Miller, the director of government affairs for one such group, Trout Unlimited, stresses that hydropower dams are uniquely site-specific in their benefits and impacts. But in general, she says, “retrofitting and using existing infrastructure is definitely the best way to go about finding new hydropower energy without building new dams or creating additional disruptions and diversions to waterways.”

All renewable energy projects call for a trade-off between energy benefits and ecological disruption, but in the case of pumped storage, that's a trade the increasingly clean U.S. energy sector should be willing to make.


E&E News: Industry defends House energy bill as provisions head to floor

Industry defends House energy bill as provisions head to floor
Hannah Northey, Energy & Environment News
Published: Wednesday, November 18, 2015


Five major energy trade groups today defended a comprehensive energy package in the House that would revamp the nation's process for licensing hydropower projects, rebutting a number of criticisms environmental groups have raised with the language.

The National Hydropower Association, Edison Electric Institute, American Public Power Association, Large Public Power Council and National Rural Electric Cooperative Association defended the House bill, H.R. 8, in a letter to Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).

Existing processes for authorizing hydropower projects are antiquated, they said, and the "North American Energy Security and Infrastructure Act" provides much needed but modest steps toward improving federal reviews. "The regulatory requirements alone are causing investors to favor lower-cost resources with emissions instead of renewable, non-emitting hydropower," they wrote.

The industry groups also attached a white paper in which they moved to dispel what they called "troubling accusations" from more than 200 environmental groups that last week called the House bill and its hydropower provisions an "unprecedented assault" on the nation's rivers and environmental laws (E&ENews PM, Nov. 10).

Environmental, recreational, fishing and water quality groups argued that provisions in the House bill -- part of an amendment that Reps. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.) and Jerry McNerney (D-Calif.) introduced to bolster hydropower -- were developed in secret, with no input from recreation and conservation interests or the states, tribes and federal natural resources agencies.

The House Energy and Commerce Committee approved the amendment by voice vote in September, but only after Energy and Commerce Committee ranking member Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) voiced his opposition.

EEI, NHA and other groups said the legislation updates a process that's outdated and allows state and federal regulators to take too long on permitting decisions. And unlike assertions from environmental groups, the bill does not threaten critical laws, they said.

"Contrary to various inaccurate statements and exaggerated claims, the hydropower provisions would neither repeal nor undercut the timely exercise of authority by any state or federal resource agency or Indian tribe to administer the Endangered Species Act, Clean Water Act or any other federal environmental law," the groups wrote.

McNerney's and McMorris Rodgers' amendment would direct the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to consult with agencies and tribes in developing a schedule for all federal approvals of nonfederal hydropower and would authorize the U.S. courts of appeals to grant limited extensions of time as may be requested by agencies and tribes. The bill would also, among other things, expedite the licensing process for closed-loop pumped storage projects and establish an expedited FERC license amendment approval process for increasing hydropower capacity or efficiency.

Whereas fishing and environmental groups argued the language would allow large utilities to ignore state and tribal requirements under the Clean Water Act so that their dams meet water quality standards, the trade groups said that's not the case. The bill imposes a deadline only for agencies to act; it does not dictate what they must focus on or the outcome of their decisions, EEI, NHA and the other groups wrote.

"We think this is a far cry from giving clean energy developers a right to 'avoid' or 'ignore' environmental laws," they wrote.

Rep. Ed Whitfield (R-Ky.), who chairs the Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Energy and Power, said yesterday that the comprehensive package -- which has passed committee -- will hit the floor the week of Nov. 30 (E&E Daily, Nov. 18).

Counterpoint: Hydropower Is a Star Among Renewables

Moreover, common-sense legislation to streamline licensing would help bring more of these clean-energy plants online. 

Linda Church Ciocci, NHA Executive Director  
Minneapolis Star Tribune
November 18, 2015

With the nation searching for clean energy solutions, a recent commentary by Ron Way (“Is hydropower green? Not really,” Nov. 15) asked Minnesotans a valid question: Is hydropower green? The author’s conclusion, however, is at odds with the facts, the Department of Energy and the American people. Hydropower isn’t just a renewable — it’s the nation’s largest source of renewable energy, accounting for half of all generation of renewable energy.

Read the Op-Ed →

Hydropower Industry Leaders Send Letter to House Leadership Dispelling False Claims About Licensing Modernization Provisions

Leaders of the hydropower industry sent a letter to U.S. House leadership today calling for passage of provisions included in the energy bill approved by the House Energy and Commerce Committee that would bring the hydropower licensing process into the 21st century. 

In the letter, the National Hydropower Association (NHA), American Public Power Association, Edison Electric Institute, Large Public Power Council, and National Rural Electric Cooperative Association herald the bipartisan hydropower provisions in the bill as “much needed, but modest steps designed to make this clean energy source a more attractive choice,” and call for the end of the “inaccurate rhetoric surrounding the hydropower provisions” recently instigated by opponents of hydropower and the many public benefits it provides.  

View the Letter →

The Hill: Hydropower backers push faster permitting

Hydropower backers push faster permitting
Devin Henry
The Hill

A hydropower industry group is encouraging Congress to move forward with bills to speed up the permitting process for new projects. 

The National Hydropower Association launched a website and public education campaign Monday to plug the industry, the role it can play in reducing carbon emissions and congressional measures designed to ease hydropower permitting in the future. 

“As a nation, if we are serious about decreasing carbon emissions and expanding clean energy solutions, we simply can’t allow hydropower to be hindered by a process that can take up to ten years,” NHA executive director Linda Church Ciocci said in a statement.

“Unless and until we have a system that exemplifies efficiency, timeliness and accountability, America’s largest source of renewable energy will continue to be held back.”

There are about 1,400 hydropower plants in the United States today, generating about 7 percent of the country’s electricity, according to the Energy Information Association. The industry’s biggest presence is in the Pacific Northwest, where hydropower is a key source of electricity. 

NHA says there are “dozens” of hydropower projects waiting for federal permitting, about 40 percent of which have been delayed beyond their license expiration dates.

Both the House and Senate included hydropower provisions in their respective energy overhaul bills. 

In the House, lawmakers directed the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to take the lead in permitting new plants and consult with relevant agencies to write a permitting schedule, among other measures.

The Senate’s energy bill does the same, and it contains a “sense of Congress” provision that all authorizations for hydropower plant should be issued within three years of filing with FERC. 

“Congress has a chance to unlock hydropower’s potential to fight climate [change], while providing millions of homes and businesses with access to affordable and sustainable energy,” Ciocci said. 

“With this campaign, we hope to empower and encourage American’s to let their representatives know how important waterpower is to our clean energy future.”

NHA Launches UnlockHydro Campaign

As Congressional leaders in the House and Senate work towards passage of an energy bill, the National Hydropower Association (NHA) today unveiled a new education campaign titled, “UnlockHydro”. The campaign is aimed at generating awareness about hydropower’s ability to help the nation fight climate change and educating the public about the outdated licensing process that keeps hydropower from realizing its clean energy potential. 

At a time when the nation is looking for clean energy solutions, hydropower is hamstrung by a licensing process that lacks coordination, resulting in duplicative reviews, conflicting priorities, and deferred decision-making that delays both project deployment and real environmental improvements.

Today, you can permit a fossil fuel plant in New York City in a mere fraction of the time it takes to license a hydropower project, America’s largest source of carbon-free, renewable energy. By comparison, it only takes 18-24 months to license a Natural Gas Combined Cycle Plant.  

“As a nation, if we are serious about decreasing carbon emissions and expanding clean energy solutions, we simply can’t allow hydropower to be hindered by process that can take up to ten years,” said Linda Church Ciocci, NHA Executive Director. “Unless and until we have a system that exemplifies efficiency, timeliness and accountability, America’s largest source of renewable energy will continue to be held back. Congress has a chance to unlock hydropower’s potential to fight climate change, while protecting environmental values and providing millions of homes and businesses with access to affordable and sustainable energy. With this campaign, we hope to empower and encourage American’s to let their representatives know how important waterpower is to our clean energy future.” 

An Outdated Licensing Process

Today, of the dozens of existing hydropower projects waiting awaiting approval, nearly 40 percent have been delayed at least 5 years past the license expiration date. On top of that, nearly 20 percent of currently pending relicensing applications have been delayed at least 8 years past the license expiration date.

The problem becomes compounded when you consider that over the next 15 years, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) expects over 500 projects to begin the relicensing process, representing more than 16,000 Megawatts of installed capacity (which is about 30% of the total hydropower capacity under FERC’s jurisdiction). 

The costs and inefficiencies of the current relicensing process could render many of these projects uneconomic, risking the loss of an important renewable energy resource.

Hydropower’s Untapped Potential

According to the Department of Energy (DOE), 97% of the nation’s existing dams are not equipped to generate power. Yet, while the overwhelming majority of dams in communities throughout the country sit idle, the 3 percent of dams that do produce energy account for nearly 7 percent of the nation’s total electricity production – roughly half of our production of renewable electricity.

DOE has determined that we could to add up to 12,000 megawatts of new clean renewable capacity to our nation’s non-powered dams—enough to power nearly 5 million homes and displace the emissions of approximately 190,000,000 barrels of oil.

Modernization Concerns Debunked

Modernizing the licensing process to unlockhydro is good public policy that will help the nation fight climate change. Contrary to the misinformation being disseminated by some, neither of bipartisan modernization bills weakens or eliminates the authority of federal and state resource agencies to require hydropower operators to mitigate the effects of their projects. The legislation is designed to protect states’ rights and environmental values. We want you to have the facts.  So we’ve put together a deep-dive analysis into the legislation to correct the record.