Hydropower Relicensing and Climate Change
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.