Cantwell Hails Key Committee Passage of Hydropower Improvement Act

Cantwell: ‘Emissions-free hydropower is a great source of electricity in WA & keeps our rates among lowest in U.S.’

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) hailed committee passage of her bipartisan bill to help boost hydropower production, The Hydropower Improvement Act of 2013 (S.545). The bill, which passed out of the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources (ENR) this morning by a voice vote, will now move to the full Senate for consideration.

Cantwell is an original cosponsor of The Hydropower Improvement Act of 2013 (S. 545). The Hydropower Improvement Act was introduced by Senators Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), the ENR Committee’s top Republican, and Ron Wyden (D-OR), the committee’s chairman, along with committee members Cantwell and James Risch (R-ID), and Senators Patty Murray (D-WA), Mike Crapo (R-ID) and Mark Begich (D-AK).

The bill would encourage expanded hydropower production by removing some licensing barriers for small hydropower development. It would also require a study on the feasibility of a streamlined two-year permitting process at existing dams and pumped storage projects, a move that could help boost hydropower investment across the nation. It is important to note that the bill does not provide authorization to build large new dams. For more information on the legislation, click here.

“Emissions-free hydropower is a great source of electricity in Washington and keeps our rates among the lowest in the country,” Cantwell said. “This bipartisan bill would help boost small hydropower development across the country by simplifying the licensing process on existing projects. I am pleased this common-sense legislation passed the Energy Committee and look forward to a full Senate vote.”

As the top hydro-producer in the nation, Washington state is poised to build on its existing capability to generate more clean, renewable power without building new dams. Cantwell’s legislation would help boost small hydropower projects across the state.

For example, officials at the Snohomish County Public Utility District (PUD) are planning a number of projects that could benefit from Cantwell’s legislation, including the Calligan & Hancock Creek Projects located approximately 10 miles north of North Bend, which are expected to produce six megawatts each, or enough on average for nearly 3,600 homes. The Snohomish PUD also recently opened the Youngs Creek hydropower project – another example of the type of project that could benefit under Cantwell’s legislation. Youngs Creek is expected to generate up to three megawatts, or enough power for about 2,000 homes. The legislation could also help projects at existing structures like the relicensing of Enloe Dam in Okanogan County, which has been in progress for the past seven years.

U.S. Representative Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA-05) is the sponsor of companion legislation, the Hydropower Regulatory Efficiency Act of 2013 (H.R. 267), in the House of Representatives. The House unanimously passed H.R. 267 on February 13, 2013. Today, the Senate ENR Committee also approved H.R. 267 by a voice vote.

Hydropower is the largest source of clean, renewable energy in the United States, and Washington state produces almost a third of the nation’s total, more than any other state. Roughly 75 percent of Washington’s electricity is generated from hydropower, and the same dams irrigate Eastern Washington’s farms which produce top crops such as apples, cherries, hops, and wheat. Washington state also has huge potential to produce electricity with small in-stream hydropower technologies by harnessing water flowing in the state’s numerous irrigation canals and conduits.

Much of the nation’s new hydropower capacity can be gained by maximizing existing infrastructure and through the use of new technologies, such as upgrading turbines to produce more power with the same volume of water. Other growth opportunities include water power applications that don’t require large dams, such as in-conduit devices, hydrokinetics and closed-loop pumped storage. At present, 97 percent of America’s 80,000 dams don’t produce electricity.

Producing homegrown renewable energy can help reduce the nation’s dependence on energy imports, improve the security and reliability of the electric grid by promoting distributed generation, and avoid emissions of greenhouse gases and air pollutants. It can also help keep electricity rates low for consumers, helping to attract new residents and businesses to the region.

Cantwell has been a consistent champion for expanded hydropower production and has built growing momentum for S. 545. The bill received positive feedback during an Energy Committee hearing on April 23. At that hearing, U.S. Representative McMorris Rodgers also testified on behalf of her bill, H.R. 267. During the 112th Congress, Cantwell led similar legislation that cleared the Energy Committee with her support but never received a vote by the full Senate.