Hydroelectric power's place in America's energy mix has been cemented following the enactment of House Resolutions 267 and 678 by President Barack Obama this past week, industry advocates said.
House Resolution 267 (or the Hydropower Regulatory Efficiency Act of 2013) and H.R. 678 (the Bureau of Reclamation Small Conduit Hydropower and Rural Jobs Act) both received unanimous approval from the U.S. Senate earlier this month before being signed into law by Obama on Friday.
The bills mark the first significant piece of energy legislation to be enacted since the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, according to the National Hydropower Association (NHA).
"Hydropower is America's leading renewable, providing low-cost, reliable electricity to millions of American families," NHA Executive Director Linda Church Ciocci said. "These bills are an excellent step to unlocking the tens of thousands of megawatts of untapped hydropower capacity that can provide millions of Americans greater access to affordable, reliable electricity.
"I applaud President Obama for signing them into law and for his continued support of hydropower's role in addressing our energy, environmental and economic challenges."
A study conducted by Navigant Consulting indicates that 60,000 MW of hydro power could be added to the nation's grids with the right policies in place, creating 1.4 million cumulative jobs. This would add to America's 100,000 MW of current hydroelectric capacity, NHA said, while strengthening an industry that already includes about 300,000 workers and a supply chain of more than 2,500 companies.
"Expanding hydropower in the United States will strengthen and diversify our country's energy portfolio," Ciocci said. "From the unanimous passage of these bills, it is clear that the development of more clean, affordable hydropower is a goal that lawmakers from both parties can get behind."
Indeed, support for the Hydropower Regulatory Efficiency Act and the Bureau of Reclamation Small Conduit Hydropower and Rural Jobs Act has been strong from both sides of the aisle, with each bill co-sponsored by members of both parties.
"This initiative was a bipartisan effort from start to finish, and together we've now created a law that will help get Americans back to work and will move us forward in our nation's clean energy leadership," said Rep. Diana DeGette, who co-authored H.R. 267 with Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers.
The bill -- introduced to the House in January by Reps. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., and Diana Degette, R-Colo. -- promotes the development of small hydropower and in-conduit projects while also decreasing the regulatory timeframes associated with certain other low-impact projects, such as the addition of generating components to non-powered dams and closed-loop pumped-storage systems.
"The future of American energy independence depends on the development of an 'all-of-the-above' energy approach, and I'm proud that hydro is finally on its way to being part of it," McMorris Rodgers said.
Meanwhile, H.R. 678 -- introduced by Rep. Scott Tipton (R-Colo.) -- authorizes small hydropower development at existing Reclamation-owned canals, pipelines, aqueducts and other manmade waterways.
"I'm honored that I was able to lead the charge for this commonsense effort that received broad and bipartisan support at the local, state and national levels," Tipton said. "With the signing of the Hydropower and Rural Jobs Act into law, we have made headway in the effort to establish American energy independence and put people back to work."
H.R. 678 also removes application of the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA) from some projects, further streamlining the licensing process.
"By cutting unnecessary Washington red tape, this law gives hydropower developers the certainty they need to move forward with new projects on over 40,000 miles of federal canals throughout the west," said Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., who introduced H.R. 678's companion bill to the Senate.
Hydropower's role in Obama's "all-of-the-above" plan was further defined in the President's recently announced Climate Action Plan, which cited the addition of hydro power to Iowa's Red Rock Dam as an example of the sort of development essential for decreasing American pollution.
"Hydropower is a critical part of our efforts to generate low-cost electricity, while at the same time reducing our carbon emissions," said Sen. Lisa Murkowski, who introduced the Senate version of H.R. 267.
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