With so much untapped potential in the US, in terms of both electricity and jobs, hydropower has the ability to be the driving force behind the country’s economic recovery. “At a time when America’s economy is still fragile, job creation is stagnant, and energy prices are rising, we should be looking at every opportunity to put Americans back to work and increase domestic energy production,” said Rep Cathy McMorris Rodgers. “And America’s hydropower industry is ready to meet this challenge.”[1]

A member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, McMorris Rodgers is spearheading this challenge herself. Together with Rep Diana DeGette, McMorris Rodgers introduced HR 3680 the Hydropower Regulatory Efficiency Act of 2011 into US Congress. The act will facilitate the development of small hydropower and conduit projects (existing water supply or waste projects). It will also direct the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to study the feasibility of a two-year streamlined permitting process.

“This bi-partisan legislation will create jobs and ensure that America maintains its competitive advantage in the energy sector. As the largest clean and green electricity source in the US, hydropower has the potential to create 700,000 new jobs without building one new dam,” McMorris Rodgers explained. “This bill promotes what Eastern Washington already knows: hydro is as clean and green as energy comes – and it’s affordable.”

With approximately 100,000MW of electric capacity in the US, hydropower is the country’s largest source of renewable electricity, currently employing approximately 300,000 workers. But as only 3% of the 80,000 dams generate electricity, this means that there is substantial potential for adding hydropower generation to non-powered dams. Estimates suggest that by utilising currently untapped resources, the US could add more than 60,000MW of new hydropower capacity by 2025, which could create hundreds of thousands of jobs over the next 14 years.

“As Eastern Washington’s voice in Congress, I know that hydropower helped to build the Pacific Northwest,” McMorris Rodgers said. “Decades ago, it turned what was once a desert into one of the most productive agricultural regions in the country. In addition to providing flood control and transportation, dams also provide the affordable, renewable energy that helped give birth to Boeing and Kaiser Aluminium and then turned them into global leaders in specialised manufacturing. Now the dams are powering hi-tech data centres in Eastern Washington such as the Titan complex in Moses Lake and the Yahoo!, Intuit, and Microsoft data centres in Quincy.

“And yet, despite its numerous advantages, hydropower remains vastly underutilised. While hydro meets 72% of Washington State’s total electricity needs, nationwide that number is only 7%.” [1]

McMorris Rodgers and DeGette’s bill HR3680 will help facilitate hydropower development through what are described as ‘commonsense reforms’. These include:

• Making small hydropower and conduit projects (less than 5MW) completely exempt from the regulatory process.

• Giving FERC the option to exempt 5-40MW conduit projects from the permitting process.

• Giving FERC the ability to extend preliminary permits.

• Getting FERC to investigate the feasibility of a two-year licensing process for hydropower development at non-powered dams and closed loop pumped storage projects

• Asking the Department of Energy to study the hydropower potential at pumped storage and conduit projects across the country.

• Requesting a report on the memorandum of understanding on hydropower entered into on 24 March 2010.

The national-hydropower-association immediately endorsed the bill. “nha appreciates the bi-partisan leadership that reps McMorris Rodgers and DeGette have demonstrated and we look forward to working with them to get this bill to the President’s desk,” NHA Executive Director Linda Church Ciocci said.

Other supporters include Grant County Public Utility District, which worked closely with Rep. McMorris Rodgers’ to introduce the bill. Grant County PUD also gave testimony in support of a similar piece of legislation which was approved by the Senate Energy and Commerce Committee in April 2011. Introduced by Senator Lisa Murkowski, the Hydropower Improvement Act of 2011 is currently awaiting action by the full Senate. The bi-partisan piece of legislation aims to spur the development of hydropower and its job creation by:

• Increasing support for research and development.

• Calling for better co-ordination of regulation and permitting processes.

• Establishing a grant programme for hydropower projects.

Speaking about her proposed piece of legislation which was introduced in December 2011, McMorris Rodgers said that she is going to push hard with DeGette to get the bill passed through Congress and signed into law.

“At a time when our economy desperately needs to put Americans to work, we should be looking for every opportunity to create jobs,” she said. “This legislation will do just that. It will be enormously beneficial to those in Eastern Washington and across the country.

“Hydropower has the capacity to meet our country’s growing needs, reduce our dependence on foreign oil, and put Americans back to work. It’s time to say yes to one of America’s most promising clean energy sources.”

Grant County PUD hydro interest

Grant County is the fourth largest county in Washington State and its economy is largely dependent upon agriculture. Grant PUD owns two, large hydroelectric dams on the Columbia River – the 955MW Priest Rapids and 1038MW Wanapum dams. These facilities, licensed together as the Priest Rapids Project, make up the second largest non-federal hydroelectric project in the country.
The PUD also has two other smaller hydro interests:
“¢ The Quincy Chute – a 9.4MW project located on one of the main irrigation canals and operated by a consortium of local irrigation districts. Under agreement with irrigation partners, Grant PUD financed, designed and constructed the scheme which began commercial operation in 1985.
“¢ The Potholes East Canal Headworks Project – a 6.5MW scheme which has been operating since 1990. It is operated by Grant PUD under agreement with a consortium of irrigators