American Whitewater’s Dave Steindorf will testify before a subcommittee of the US House of Representatives today on behalf of the Hydropower Reform Coalition. The hearing titled “Modernizing Energy Infrastructure: Challenges and Opportunities to Expanding Hydropower Generation” will discuss licensing reforms among others topics.
Hydropower represents approximately 20% of the world’s energy supply, is viewed as both vulnerable to global climate warming and an asset to reduce climate altering emissions, and is increasingly the target of improved regulation to meet multiple ecosystem service benefits. It is within this context that the recent decision by the United States Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to reject studies of climate change in its consideration of reoperation of the Yuba-Bear Drum-Spaulding hydroelectric facilities in northern California is shown to be poorly reasoned and risky. Given the rapidity of climate warming, and its anticipated impacts to natural and human communities, future long-term fixed licenses of hydropower operation will be ill prepared to adapt if science-based approaches to incorporating reasonable and foreseeable hydrologic changes into study plans are not included. The licensing of hydroelectricity generation can no longer be issued in isolation due to downstream contingencies such as domestic water use, irrigated agricultural production, ecosystem maintenance, and general socioeconomic well-being. At minimum, if the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission is to establish conditions of operation for 30-50 years, licensees should be required to anticipate changing climatic and hydrologic conditions for a similar period of time.
Available online at http://watershed.ucdavis.edu/pdf/Viers_JAWRA_2011.pdf
Introduction:FERC’s Integrated Licensing Process (ILP) is applicable to both relicensing existing hydroelectric projects and developing new projects. FERC’s ILP was developed during a period when there were few applications being filed for new projects. Although applications for relicensings may likely continue to outnumber applications for new projects, the complexity and number of new projects being pursued into licensing has increased significantly in the past two years. New projects today include conventional small and medium-sized hydroelectric projects. Many are multiple use water and energy projects, which can be bundled with pumped storage and transmission. There are also growing numbers of new hydroelectric based technologies such as tidal and wave energy projects that require licensing and often multiple agency approvals.
Water managers face tough challenges in sustaining the healthand availability of rivers while meeting increasing demands fortheir use. One tool that can give hydro project owners guidanceis a six-step framework for ecologically sustainable water managementdeveloped by The Nature Conservancy.