Cantwell Introduces Landmark Bipartisan Bill to Bolster Clean WA Hydropower Production

Largest bipartisan commitment to hydropower in two decades has support of industry, Tribes, environmentalists; Cantwell: “Reliable hydropower has been the backbone of the State of Washington’s economy for decades”

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Chair of the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, joined Sen. Steve Daines (R-MT) in introducing legislation to bolster hydropower production in the State of Washington and throughout the country. The Community and Hydropower Improvement Act would streamline the permitting process, increase tribal engagement and oversight, expedite low impact projects, consider future climate impacts, promote healthy habitat, and coordinate federal decision making. 

“Clean, affordable, and reliable hydropower has been the backbone of the State of Washington’s economy for decades,” said Sen. Cantwell. “This bipartisan hydro relicensing proposal -- which is supported by industry, Tribes, and environmentalists -- will provide the certainty and stakeholder participation we need to keep these emissions free resources online while improving river ecosystems.”

The full text of the Community and Hydropower Improvement Act is available HERE.

A one-pager about the bill is available HERE.

Sen. Cantwell has long been a consistent champion for hydropower production and pumped storage, working on many different bills across the aisle. She helped lead passage of the Hydropower Regulatory Efficiency Act of 2013, which reduced licensing barriers for small hydropower development. She has also worked on legislation to provide tax credits for environmental upgrades at damsimprove the FERC relicensing process to incentivize “early action” by utilities to make upgrades to dams that benefit ratepayers and the environment, maximize hydropower generation capacity where appropriate, and streamline pumped storage project approval.

The bill has support from a broad range of stakeholders:

“Hydropower is critical to achieving the goal of a resilient and reliable, zero-carbon electricity grid, and this bill seeks to protect and advance this critical energy resource by strengthening and expediting the FERC licensing process, better informing agency decision making, assuring environmental stewardship, and improving coordination among all relicensing participants. The existing regulatory process is unnecessarily time consuming and expensive. With a historic number of projects coming up for relicensing and growing interest in developing new hydropower resources at existing non-powered dams and new closed-loop pumped storage, this bill will help safeguard and expand vital hydropower resources in an environmentally responsible manner, improve grid stability and security, and advance our trajectory towards a clean electricity grid. The hydropower industry applauds the leadership of Senator Daines and Cantwell for advancing this bipartisan effort.” — Malcolm Woolf, CEO & President of the National Hydropower Association.

“The National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) applauds Senator Cantwell and Senator Daines for their introduction of the Community and Hydropower Improvement Act. This piece of legislation will update regulations that will empower Tribal Nations and recognize their inherent decision-making authority to prevent future environmental and economic destruction on tribal lands, and allow greater cooperation with federal and state partners. NCAI has and will continue to advocate for its passage and signing into law.” — NCAI Executive Director Larry Wright, Jr.

“This is a package of smart, strategic updates to make the process work better for everyone. Healthy rivers are essential to all life. By improving the process for licensing, relicensing and decommissioning dams, and by restoring autonomy and self-determination to Tribal Nations, we will improve outcomes for rivers, the electric grid, and communities nationwide.” — Tom Kiernan, President of American Rivers.

“As a former FERC Chair, I support this bill because hydropower is essential to a 24/7, reliable, clean energy grid. Hydropower is a domestic source of clean, baseload electricity and plays a critical role in balancing intermittent wind and solar. I commend Senators Daines and Cantwell, along with the various stakeholders, for developing this sensible approach to improve the hydropower licensing and relicensing process.” — Neil Chatterjee, former Federal Energy Regulatory Commission Chair.

“As an emissions-free resource, hydropower can play a critical role in our clean energy future.  The Daines-Cantwell bill proposes several meaningful reforms to the hydro licensing process that will enable hydropower to thrive in an environmentally responsible manner.”— Richard Glick, former Federal Energy Regulatory Commission Chair.

“We’ve got to fix the cost and delays that are bogging down the licensing process for hydropower projects. Hydro supplies 37 percent of zero-carbon power in the United States—and more than thirty percent of all the nonfederal hydropower licenses in the United States are set to expire by 2030. It’s time to reform the process so we can keep this crucial energy source online.” ---John Podesta, White House senior adviser

“I have spent my life addressing the impact of the Cushman Dam licensing, which until recently did not take into consideration the impact of Tacoma Public Utility dams and hydroelectric facilities on the Skokomish Reservation, Skokomish Tribal Members and community, and Treaty protected resources the people depend upon for their cultural, physical, and economic well-being.  The introduction of the Community and Hydropower Improvement Act is truly historic in that for the first time Tribes will be able to set the conditions for projects that are on their lands instead of having to rely on some far away trustee to do what they think is in our best interest.” — Joseph Pavel, former Chairman of the Skokomish Tribe, WA and current Tribal Natural Resources Director. 

“In Washington, hydropower plays a critical role in delivering clean, renewable energy, and we are pleased to support this effort to strengthen the hydropower licensing process. This effort is the result of the river community, Tribes and the hydropower industry working collaboratively to protect and expand the U.S. hydropower fleet, while safeguarding the health of rivers. We applaud the leadership of Senators Cantwell and Daines, and urge Congress to pass this legislation” — Debra Smith, General Manager and CEO, Seattle City Light.

“The Community and Hydropower Improvement Act proposes practical improvements to reduce delay and conflict in the licensing process. It improves coordination among agencies on schedule and information gathering.  It clarifies information requirements for economic analysis, models, and fish passage. And it requires development of a clear decommissioning process when project owners decide their hydropower project no longer provides value for themselves, the grid, and ratepayers.” — Chris Shutes, Executive Director, California Sportfishing Protection Alliance.

“Hydropower is one of our nation's most underutilized forms of renewable, carbon-free energy. CRES applauds Senators Steve Daines and Maria Cantwell for leading this bipartisan legislation to empower the United States to harness the power of our rivers and promote an all-of-the-above energy strategy that strengthens our energy security and reduces emissions.” — Citizens for Responsible Energy Solutions (CRES)

“Over the last several decades American Whitewater has engaged in over 100 hydropower license proceedings that have restored flows to rivers and improved river health. This legislation will lead to critical process improvements that include analysis of project economics in changing energy markets, evaluation of climate change and its impact on water availability for energy generation, and recognition of Tribal sovereignty. For projects that have reached the end of their useful life, the legislation directs the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to establish procedures for license surrender that include predictable timelines and opportunities for public participation.” — Thomas O’Keefe, Pacific Northwest Stewardship Director for American Whitewater.

“EEI’s member companies rely on a diverse and domestic energy mix to generate the resilient clean energy we need to power our lives. While hydropower is an essential part of this energy mix, the licensing process needs to be updated so that America’s electric companies can unlock its full potential. We applaud Senators Daines and Cantwell for their leadership on a reform package to improve the federal hydropower licensing process. The package will increase efficiencies and inter-agency coordination, promote transparency, and reduce costs. An efficient and timely licensing process for new and existing hydropower projects will be essential to the ongoing clean energy transition.” – Phil Moeller, EEI Executive Vice President of Business Operations Group and Regulatory Affairs.