Hydro flow needs to speed up

Source: BY MATTHEW CHOI, Politico • Posted: Wednesday, January 12, 2022

Members of both parties on the Senate Energy Committee appeared to agree on a common point Tuesday: building new hydropower has too many barriers. Chair Joe Manchin said it’s a “shame we don’t have more” hydropower capacity, citing as an advantage its potential to complement more weather-variable generation such as wind and solar.

The difficulties largely stem from lengthy permitting timelines, with few punitive measures for federal regulators to enforce deadlines, experts told the committee at a hearing Tuesday. Malcolm Woolf, president and CEO of the National Hydropower Association, said roughly 30 percent of licenses expire in 2030 and the average relicensing duration is 7.6 years. Local authorities also often make authorization contingent on support for other, irrelevant local priorities, such as recreation, Woolf added.

“Congress has to have the ability to set deadlines and mean it,” Sen. Angus King (I-Maine) said. “This idea that it takes longer to permit a hydro project than a nuclear plant is absolutely preposterous.” King voiced support for an expedited permitting process for retrofitting old dams with new power generating capabilities. Ranking member John Barrasso noted that less than 3 percent of dams currently generate power.

Witnesses at the hearing also said tax benefits for other low-emissions sources draw away potential investors for hydropower. Sens. Maria Cantwell and Lisa Murkowski are pushing together legislation offering expanded investment tax credits with a direct pay option for hydropower, and Senate Finance Chair Ron Wyden included hydropower under the clean energy tax credits in his committee’s latest reconciliation text.