Energy: Advancing 93 Megawatts Of Potential Hydropower Capacity

Erin Carson, Lead Analyst Friday October 17th 2014

Hydropower has been a bipartisan topic among typically partisan lawmakers. Four hydropower bills passed both chambers and became law during the 113th Congress, and a number of other bipartisan bills that were moving through the congressional process will be re-introduced in the 114th. This is largely because hydropower is a predominately geographical issue – not a partisan one – and can be supported by both Democrats and Republicans.  

Instead of politics, regulatory barriers to entry have been a key issue affecting this growth in the hydropower industry. During the 113th Congress, President Obama signed into law three critical bipartisan bills that aim to ease permitting requirements for new hydropower facilities. The Hydropower Regulatory Efficiency Act Of 2013 (PL-113-23)  requires the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to investigate using a two-year licensing process projects located on a federal dams that meet certain criteria; and in August 2014, the FERC approved a pilot project on the Kentucky River to test this two-year licensing process.  The Bureau Of Reclamation Small Conduit Hydropower Development And Rural Jobs Act (PL 113-24) excludes small hydroelectric projects on Bureau of Reclamation land from environmental review criteria in the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). Finally, the Bonneville Unit Clean Hydropower Facilitation Act (PL 113-20) addresses allocation of costs for the Bonneville Unit Hydropower development on the Diamond Fork System in Utah.

A number of additional bipartisan bills that were introduced during the 113 Congress could be considered during the lame-duck session but will most likely be re-introduced in 2015:

  1. S.545 - Hydropower Improvement Act Of 2013), sponsored by Sen. LIsa Murkowski (R-AK): would increase from 5,000 to 10,000 kilowatts the size of small hydroelectric power projects which the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) may exempt from its license requirements, among other provisions. (Reported to the Senate floor 6/3/2013)
  2. S.2010 - Bureau Of Reclamation Conduit Hydropower Development Equity And Jobs Act, sponsored by Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY): would authorize the Bureau of Reclamation to sign leases with non-federal groups that seek to develop hydropower projects at federal facilities. (Reported to Senate floor 7/31/2014)

  3. H.R. 1963 - Bureau of Reclamation Conduit Hydropower Development Equity and Jobs Act, sponsored by Rep. Steve Daines (R-MT): would authorize the Bureau of Reclamation to sign leases with non-federal groups that seek to develop hydropower projects at federal facilities. (Reported to Senate floor 7/31/2014)

  4. S. 1946 - A Bill To Amend The Reclamation Safety Of Dams Act Of 1978 To Modify The Authorization Of Appropriations, sponsored by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR): would reauthorize the Bureau of Reclamation’s Safety of Dam programs (Reported to Senate floor 7/31/2014)

  5. S. 1419 The Marine and Hydrokinetic Renewable Energy Act of 2013, sponsored by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR): would redefine hydrokinetic renewable energy to include energy from free flowing water in rivers and man-made channels, ocean and tidal waves, and differentials in ocean temperature; as well as authorize a new research and development program  with funding through Fiscal Year 2017. (Referred to Senate Energy and Natural Resources Subcommittee on Water and Power 2/27/2014)

  6. S.1448 - Spokane Tribe Of Indians Of The Spokane Reservation Equitable Compensation Act, sponsored by Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA): would pay the Spokane Reservation for the use of land for building and operating a hydroelectric dam. (Reported to Senate floor 6/26/2014)

Want more?

National Hydropower Association:

Federal Energy Regulatory Commission – Hydropower:

Small, Low-Impact Hydropower Projects:

Energy Information Administration:

Department of Energy: 

Reference Notes