Hydroelectric power represented well in new bipartisan Senate bill

Capitol Hill

Bipartisan energy legislation submitted to the U.S. Senate yesterday includes an extensive section that explicitly defines hydroelectric power as a renewable, while also improving on existing hydropower regulation.

Introduced by Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, and Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., the "Energy Policy Modernization Act of 2015" includes a number of measures for both the conventional, and marine and hydrokinetics (MHK) sectors.

For conventional hydroelectric power, Section 3001 of the proposed legislation:

  • Designates the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) as the lead agency to set a binding schedule and coordinate all needed federal authorizations in order to address hydropower permitting backlogs. Further authorizes the Chairman of CEQ to resolve any interagency disputes to ensure timely participation and decision making by the resource agencies;
  • Sets forth a Sense of Congress that hydropower is a renewable resource for purposes of all federal programs;
  • Amends the federal purchasing requirement in the Energy Policy Act of 2005 (EPAct) to include all forms of hydropower and raises the federal purchase requirement for renewable energy from 7.5% to 15%;
  • Requires a resource agency's mandatory condition or prescription to have a "clear and direct nexus" to the actual project works;
  • Extends preliminary permit terms from three years to four years, and lengthens the subsequent potential FERC extension from two years to four years;
  • Directs FERC to compile and make public a comprehensive collection of studies and data; to use existing studies in individual licensing proceedings, and to ensure that studies required for federal authorizations are not duplicated;
  • Requires the concurrent preparation of biological opinions and starts the clock for water quality certifications when the request for certification is determined to be complete;
  • Requires FERC to maintain an official consolidated record of a licensing proceeding, including the contributions made by other federal agencies
  • Requires a resource agency to demonstrate, in writing, that it has met the "equal consideration" requirement when imposing mandatory conditions or prescriptions;
  • Makes a number of improvements to the Trial-Type Hearing (TTH) process, including requiring FERC's existing Administration Law Judges (ALJ) to handle the TTG;
  • Extends the time limit for a TTH from 90 to 120 days, and allows an ALJ to stay the TTF for 120 days for settlement discussions; and
  • Directs FERC to establish a voluntary pilot program covering at least one region to consider a region-wide approach to hydropower licensing.

Meanwhile, Section 3002 would extend the incentives for hydroelectric production and efficiency improvements contained in EPAct through Fiscal Year 2025.

Further stipulations in the 357-page bill increase support for ocean, tidal and wave energy by amending both EPAct and the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 (EISA) to authorize the National Marine Renewable Energy Research, Development and Demonstration Centers to participate in demonstration projects, support in-water testing, support arrays of technology and serve as information clearinghouses.

The government "shall carry out a program of research, development, demonstration and commercial application to accelerate the introduction of marine and hydrokinetic renewable energy production into the United States energy supply, giving priority to fostering accelerated research, development and commercialization of [MHK] technology," a proposed revision of EISA Section 633 said.

The bill also increases EISA appropriations for MHK research. Per Section 3016 of the submitted document, previous allocations of $50,000,000 allocated for each fiscal year from 2008 through 2012 is extended to $55,000,000 for fiscal years 2017 and 2018, and $60,000,000 for fiscal years 2019 through 2021.

HydroWorld.com reported earlier this year that the MHL sector might also receive a boost from Congress by way of the Marine and Hydrokinetic Renewable Energy Act of 2015 -- introduced to the House in May -- and the Senate Bill 1058, which was introduced in April.

For more policy and regulation news, visit here.

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