Cantwell Introduces Bipartisan Bill to Boost U.S. Hydropower Production, Jobs

Cantwell: ‘Emissions-free hydropower is the backbone of WA’s economy’

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Today, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) joined a bipartisan group of senators in introducing legislation to increase our nation’s hydropower capacity to generate more emissions-free electricity and create more clean energy jobs.

The Hydropower Improvement Act, led by Senator Cantwell, Chair of the Energy and Natural Resources (ENR) Subcommittee on Energy, and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), ENR Committee Ranking Member, and cosponsored by seven other Senators, would grow the domestic supply of hydropower and spur job creation in an industry that employs more than 300,000 people. A study by Navigant Consulting, Inc. has shown that with the right policies, hydropower could create over 1.4 million cumulative direct, indirect, and induced jobs by 2025.

“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," Senator Cantwell said. "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.”

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. This affordable, emissions-free, and renewable power source has helped attract new business investments to the Pacific Northwest, including BMW’s selection of Moses Lake, WA, as the home of its only carbon fiber manufacturing facility in North America, and a host of new Internet data centers. Nearly 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.

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, and exploring the possibility of producing power at the 97 percent of America’s 80,000 that don’t today. There is also a lot of promise in water power applications that don’t require large dams, such as in-conduit devices, hydrokinetics, and closed-loop pumped storage.

The Hydropower Improvement Act would improve the development timeline for conduit and small hydropower projects and explore a two-year process for hydropower development at non-powered dams and closed-loop pumped storage projects. It establishes a competitive grants program and directs the Department of Energy to produce and implement a research, development, and deployment plan for increased hydropower capacity. The bill also calls for studies on increased development at Bureau of Reclamation facilities and in-conduit projects, as well as suitable pumped storage locations. The legislation does not authorize the construction of new dams.   

Signing onto the bill as cosponsors are Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), Patty Murray (D-WA), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Mike Crapo (R-ID), James Risch (R-ID), Mark Begich (D-AK), and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI).

For more information, see www.hydro.org.