U.S. House passes bill designed to streamline hydroelectric power licensing

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The U.S. House of Representatives has passed bipartisan hydroelectric power regulatory improvement provisions as part of the North American Energy Security and Infrastructure Act of 2015, potentially helping to expedite the project approval process.

The legislation — officially House Resolution 8 — was sponsored by Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich., and passed by the House yesterday by a 249-174 vote.

“Passage of these provisions is the first step toward fully realizing hydropower’s clean energy potential,” said National Hydropower Association Executive Director Linda Church Ciocci. “At a time when the nation and the [Obama] Administration are searching for a clean energy solution, it is unacceptable to support the status quo, a process which is devoid of timeliness and collaboration.”

Major provisions of H.R. 8 include:

  • Requiring the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to act as the lead agency in coordinating with other federal, state and local government agencies and Indian tribes in fulfilling responsibilities under federal law, scoping environmental issues for analysis, and supporting early identification and resolution of matters that may delay the approval process;
  • Directing FERC to consult with agencies and tribes in developing a schedule for all federal authorizations required for non-federal hydropower, and allowing U.S. courts of appeals to grant limited extensions of time as may be requested by agencies and tribes;
  • Encouraging agencies and tribes to use existing relevant and reliable reports and information where appropriate during licensing studies;
  • Establishing an expedited licensing process for FERC’s licensing of off-river projects, including closed-loop pumped-storage projects;
  • Promoting development at existing non-powered dams through a specialized approval process that protects existing uses, while also providing for environmental enhancements through a new annual fee to be used to fund projects in the watersheds in which the projects are located;
  • Establishing an expedited FERC license amendment approval process for proposals that would increase capacity or efficiency at existing facilities; and
  • Requiring FERC to undertake rulemaking that would establish license amendment procedures that are commensurate with the range of different proposals a licensee may seek.

According to the NHA, the current hydro licensing procedure can take more than a decade to complete — hampering investments with outdated processes, redundant approvals and deferred decision-making.

“As the legislative process moves forward, we will continue working with Congress, the Administration and all stakeholders to pass a final bill that preserves the existing hydro system, protects the environment and promotes new development,” Ciocci said.

The bill also includes a provision that could create a marine and hydrokinetic research and development program within the U.S. Department of Energy with the goal of accelerating deployment of MHK technologies.

The NHA said the Senate is expected to take action on the Energy Policy Modernization Act of 2015, which includes similar stipulations to improve the regulatory process. The bill was submitted to the Senate in July.

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