Water power offers bipartisan path to tackle climate change -- Wyden
Apr 23, 2013 - Hannah Northey - eenews.net
Senate Energy and Natural Resources Chairman Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) rallied the hydropower industry yesterday, saying untapped potential for hydroelectricity across the nation offers the most promising and "ripe" path for an otherwise divided Congress to tackle climate change.
"Here in Washington, you have gridlock for as far as the eye can see, except for hydro," Wyden said at the National Hydropower Association's annual meeting in Washington, D.C. "Hydro is back. Hydro is waaayyy back."
Existing hydroelectric projects help the United States avoid 200 million metric tons of carbon each year, even though 3 percent of the existing 80,000 dams are used to generate power, he said. The country should add 60,000 megawatts of hydropower to existing dams by 2025, he said.
"Hydro is putting a lot of points on the board in the fight to win the battle on climate change," the senator said. "This is an area where people can really make a dent in the climate change problem without some of the friction and the polarization that accompanies a lot of aspects of the climate debate."
Unlike the last session of Congress, which was preoccupied with failed climate legislation and the high-profile bankruptcy of the solar manufacturer Solyndra, the House and Senate this year are "hungry" for bipartisan cooperation, and new members like Rep. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) have new ideas for how to move forward, Wyden said.
The senator also vowed to focus on hydro's carbon-emission-cutting powers during a hearing today and to fast-track two bipartisan bills that would bolster the permitting of small projects. Wyden said he hopes to schedule a markup quickly.
The committee will hear testimony on a bill by ranking member Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), the "Hydropower Improvement Act of 2013" (S. 545), which Wyden is backing. Murkowski's bill mirrors language that Reps. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.) and Diana DeGette (D-Colo.) introduced to streamline the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission's permitting process for hydropower projects on nonpowered dams and closed-loop pumped storage projects.
The committee will also consider Sen. John Barrasso's (R-Wyo.) "Bureau of Reclamation Small Conduit Hydropower Development and Rural Jobs Act" (S. 306), which mirrors a House measure that received the backing of more than 400 House members earlier this month (E&E Daily, April 11).
Just how much support is coming from the Obama administration depends on whom you ask.
Wyden said the White House is receptive to hydroelectric projects. Obama proposed in his fiscal 2014 budget to boost funding for the renewable water power portfolio to $55 million, up from the budget request for fiscal 2013 of $20 million.
The water power sector, which includes both marine hydrokinetic and conventional hydro, is currently operating on about $56 million in government funding, which includes a 5 percent budget cut from the sequester, according to Jose Zayas, DOE's wind and water power program manager. Marine hydrokinetic energy receives about two-thirds of DOE's dedicated water power funding (ClimateWire, April 11).
But McMorris Rodgers, who last year blasted the administration's campaign website for not including hydropower in an "all of the above" energy strategy, said she still has concerns.
"I think that there's more that could be done, and we want to make sure that hydropower is [critical]," she said.
National Hydropower Association President David Moller acknowledged the White House has bumped up research funding but said new qualifying hydropower projects receive half the production tax credits made available to other renewable energy sources. NHA has said that disparity skews investment and job creation away from the projects and that equalizing the tax credit for hydropower would spur investment and create jobs.
"If there are going to be financial incentives, especially for clean energy technologies, hydro absolutely ought to be included and on parity with any others," he said. "If there aren't, then there aren't and we'll move ahead."