Senators Introduce Bipartisan Hydropower Improvement Act

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, yesterday introduced the Hydropower Improvement Act of 2011 (S. 629), which was co-sponsored by Sens. Begich (D-AK), Bingaman (D-NM), Cantwell (D-WA), Crapo (R-ID), Murray (D-WA), Risch (R-ID), Whitehouse (D-RI),  and Wyden (D-OR).

The bill seeks to substantially increase the capacity and generation of our clean, renewable hydropower resources that will improve environmental quality and support local job creation and economic investment across the nation.

Murkowski: “There is no question that hydropower is, and must continue to be, part of our energy solution, as it is the largest source of renewable electricity in the United States. Hydropower is certainly something we understand in my home state of Alaska, where hydro already supplies 24 percent of the state’s electricity needs and over 200 promising sites for further hydropower development have been identified.”

Begich: “If you want to be serious about renewable energy, hydropower has to be part of the discussion.  Nowhere is that more true than Alaska, which holds over a third of our country’s untapped hydropower.  This legislation shows the way.  We can develop fish-friendly hydro sites that lower ratepayers costs.  It’s that simple.” 

Bingaman: “This bill allows us to highlight the potential for development of additional hydropower resources in an environmentally responsible way.  It includes provisions that address the potential for hydropower development from smaller sources that are available, even in a dry state like New Mexico. Additionally, the bill emphasizes the need to improve efficiency at existing facilities and to tap into the hydropower potential at existing non-powered dams.  I appreciate the ability to work with Senator Murkowski and the other members of the committee on this bipartisan bill.”

Cantwell: “Emissions-free hydropower is the backbone of Washington’s economy, providing around three quarters of our electricity, and keeping our rates among the lowest in the country. This bipartisan bill will help find ways to increase our nation's hydropower capacity without building new dams, improving air quality while creating new clean energy jobs.”

Crapo: “As we try to shift quickly from a carbon-based economy, hydropower is one of the few forms of energy that can bridge the gap between where we are and where we want to be.  That is why I am a proud sponsor of this legislation, which utilizes existing authorizations and does not add to the federal deficit.”

Murray: “Hydropower is a critical energy resource in the Pacific Northwest, and we have one of the lowest carbon footprints here to prove it. I look forward to the working with my colleagues to pass the Hydropower Improvement Act, which will help increase the use of hydropower in an environmentally friendly way while creating new jobs and bringing additional clean energy online.”

Risch: “Hydropower remains the cleanest and one of the most dependable, cost-effective domestic sources of energy.  At a time when energy prices are climbing, it makes sense to do all we can to support and expand this segment of the industry.  Streamlining the relicensing process and retrofitting existing structures for energy production is a no-brainer.”

Whitehouse: "Rising oil prices, hurting countless Rhode Islanders, reinforce our need for renewable energy sources. Simplifying the process for developing small hydropower projects will help our country better harness the clean power of our natural resources.”

Wyden: “The water already running through irrigation canals, water supply pipes and stored behind existing dams in Oregon and the rest of the country is literally an untapped energy resource. This bill will help irrigation districts, municipal water systems, and others recover clean, renewable electricity from hydroelectric projects with low environmental impact using existing water supplies.  I look forward to working with Sen. Murkowski and the other co-sponsors of this legislation to move this bill forward in the Senate Energy Committee.” 

Details of the Hydropower Improvement Act of 2011

  • Seeks to substantially increase our nation’s hydropower capacity in an effort to expand clean power generation and create domestic jobs.
  • Establishes a competitive grants program and directs the Energy Department to produce and implement a plan for the research, development and demonstration of increased hydropower capacity.
  • Provides the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission with the authority to extend preliminary permit terms; to work with federal resource agencies to make the review process more efficient for conduit and small hydropower projects; and to explore a possible two-year licensing process for hydropower development at non-powered dams and closed loop pumped storage projects.
  • Calls for studies on the resource development at Bureau of Reclamation facilities and in conduit projects, as well as on suitable pumped storage locations.  Importantly, by utilizing existing authorizations, the bill does not represent new funding.