Senator Murkowski introduces bipartisan Hydropower Improvement Act of 2011 

From Energy and Natural Resources Committee ranking member Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, has introduced bipartisan legislation to accelerate the deployment of hydroelectric power projects across the country.

The Hydropower Improvement Act has nine original co-sponsors, including Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., and Washington Senator Maria Cantwell (D), making hydropower a major area of consensus on energy in the 112th Congress, the National Hydropower Association reported.

“It is now all too clear that America needs a consensus policy on energy that can help keep prices low, create jobs and ensure a safe supply of power,” Murkowski said. “Clean, safe and domestic hydropower can help us reach our shared clean energy goals. Our bill achieves common sense regulatory reform, spurs economic growth and takes advantage of hydropower’s position as the country’s leading source of clean, renewable energy.”

The National Hydropower Association said it applauds each original co-sponsor for their early support of this job-creating clean energy bill. In addition to Senators Murkowski, Bingaman and Cantwell, the list of co-sponsors includes: Mark Begich, D-Alaska, Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, Patty Murray, D-Wash., James Risch, R-Idaho, Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I. and Ron Wyden, D-Ore.

Senator Murkowski will be a special keynote guest speaker at the upcoming 2011 NHA Annual Conference in Washington, D.C. The three-day event is planned for April 4-6 at the Capital Hilton Hotel.

The Hydropower Improvement Act, NHA said, sets a dynamic hydropower agenda for the nation.

The bill will advance project deployment (from conduit and small hydro to non-powered dams to pumped storage) by requiring better interagency coordination; through funding of competitive grants for increased production; and with continued support for research and development activities.

“Hydropower has more multi-region and bipartisan support than any other clean energy technology. It is critical to our clean energy future that this legislation is passed as soon as possible,” said National Hydropower Association Executive Director Linda Church Ciocci. “Hydropower is already responsible for nearly seven percent of total U.S. electricity generation and two-thirds of our renewable electricity. This bill recognizes the vital role of hydropower as an affordable, reliable, available and sustainable domestic energy source.”

In addition to growing the domestic supply of clean energy, local job creation is a primary focus of the legislation. Already responsible for over 300,000 jobs, a recent study by Navigant Consulting, Inc. has shown that with the right policies, hydropower could create over 1.4 million cumulative direct, indirect and induced jobs by 2025.

“The Hydropower Improvement Act will bolster the positive economic and job creation benefits of hydropower projects, supply chain companies and low-cost hydroelectricity in all fifty states,” said NHA President Andrew Munro, also director of external affairs for Washington State’s Grant County PUD. “The U.S. hydropower industry supports President Obama’s goal of generating 80 percent of the nation’s electricity with clean energy sources by 2035. Hydropower will play a critical role in reaching that goal and this bill will help America get there sooner.”

Key provisions: Hydropower Improvement Act

• Grant Program: Directs the Department of Energy (DOE) to establish a competitive grants program to support efficiency improvements or capacity additions at existing hydropower facilities; adding generation to non-powered dams; addressing aging infrastructure; conduit projects; environmental studies; and environmental mitigation measures.

• Non-powered Dams and Pumped Storage: Directs the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to explore a potential two-year licensing process for hydropower development at existing non-powered dams and closed-loop pumped storage projects.

• Conduit and Small Hydro: Allows for conduit projects on federal lands and directs FERC and other federal agencies to enter into a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to better coordinate reviews of these projects. Requires regional workshops to reduce barriers and investigate improvements to the regulatory process for small hydro and conduit projects.

• Federal Hydropower Development: Requires the Departments of Energy and Interior and the Army Corps of Engineers to report to Congress on the implementation of the March 24, 2010, MOU on increasing federal hydropower development. Also directs FERC and the Bureau of Reclamation (Bureau) to complete a new MOU to improve the coordination and timeliness of non-federal hydropower development at Bureau projects.

• R&D Program: Requires DOE to develop and implement a plan to increase the nation’s use of hydropower through research, development and demonstration initiatives.

• Studies: Directs DOE to study pumped storage project opportunities on federal and non-federal lands near existing or potential sites of intermittent renewable resource development, and a Department study of hydropower potential from existing conduits. Directs the Bureau of Reclamation to study barriers to non-federal development at Bureau projects.

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