More Efficient Regulatory Process for Hydro

Today, hydropower developments face a comprehensive regulatory approval process that involves many participants including, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, federal and state resource agencies, local governments, tribes, NGOs and the public. The system strives to promote development while protecting important environmental values. However, it can also contain redundancies and inefficiencies that unnecessarily slow the deployment of clean renewable hydropower and delay much-needed environmental enhancements and benefits. At a time when we need all the renewable, affordable and reliable energy we can get, the United States needs an updated regulatory process that gets projects off the drawing board and puts people to work in a more efficient way.

As a way to continue this process discussion in an open, collaborative way that gives all stakeholders a voice and a stake in the outcome, NHA supports several guideposts that would put the hydropower review process on equal footing with that of other renewable electricity technologies – while maintaining a responsible licensing scheme:

  • Accelerated Licensing for Minimal Impact Projects. NHA believes the clearest path to a more efficient regulatory process would be an expedited 2-year licensing for minimal impact projects, such as adding electric generation on existing dams and closed-looped pumped storage projects. An expedited 2-year process for these projects would allow developers to attract private financing and move projects ahead – at no cost to the federal government.
  • Facilitating Private Hydropower Development on Army Corps Facilities. Along with FERC, the Corps should implement a systematic review of their facilities and operations to determine and pursue hydro growth opportunities, such as increasing capacity at existing facilities or converting existing non-powered dams to generating resources. The goal is to attract private investment dollars and generate more clean energy on the federal system. Also, better integrating Corps reviews into the FERC process, as well as ensuring policy consistency across the Corps districts, will help alleviate delays and uncertainties currently experienced by developers that can affect project financing.
  • Facilitating Private Hydropower Development at Bureau of Reclamation Facilities. As with the Army Corps of Engineers, the Bureau should undergo a review of their facilities and operations to determine and implement growth opportunities. The Bureau, with its thousands of miles of canals and other man-made waterways, can be a leader in promoting the expansion of conduit power. Finally, the Bureau should investigate and address any issues that may inhibit private development on their infrastructure.
  • Enacting Improvements for Relicensing of Existing Hydropower Facilities.  Federal and state agencies should leverage any improvements made to the licensing process to the relicensing of existing hydro projects as well. Good public policy should be applicable regardless if a project is a new deployment or an existing one. With over 100 GW of conventional hydropower and pumped storage projects already in service, the continued operation of these clean energy resources is critical if the nation is to significantly increase the contribution of hydropower to our energy portfolio.