Although hydropower is a source of low-carbon energy, without careful consideration and management, dams have the potential to degrade river ecosystems and the goods and services they provide to society. Today, a broad range of hydropower interests and stakeholders are seeking approaches to hydropower development and operation that are more environmentally and socially sustainable. The Penobscot River Restoration Project (‘the Project’) illustrates that basin-scale approaches can provide a broader set of solutions for balancing energy and riverine environmental resources than can be achieved at the scale of individual projects. The Penobscot basin is the largest in Maine and historically supported culturally and economically significant populations of migratory fish. These migratory fish populations declined dramatically following the construction of a series of hydropower dams on the main stem river and major tributaries in the early 20th century. The Project, negotiated between a power company (PPL Corporation) and a coalition including the Penobscot Indian Nation, resource agencies, and nongovernmental conservation organizations, features the removal of two main stem dams on the lower Penobscot and improved fish passage at the dams that remain. Because of various capacity and/or operational changes, power production will be increased at the remaining dams and total hydropower energy production from the basin will be maintained or increase slightly. The Project is expected to expand considerably the proportion of the basin accessible to migratory fish and contribute to significant increases in fish populations. The Project illustrates that a basin-scale approach can potentially yield more comprehensive solutions for sustainable hydropower than can be achieved at the project scale, and we recommend that such large-scale planning processes can improve the sustainability of both regulatory licensing of existing dams as well as the planning of future dams in regions undergoing the expansion of water-management infrastructure.
Assuming that interest groups, like households, firms, or any other structured organization, have limited resources but broad objectives, how do they pick and choose which regulatory battles to fight? The issue of interest group battle choice has received little direct attention in the literature, in large part because defining the state space of total interest group activity is often difficult to do in practice. This paper is able to overcome such a difficulty by drawing on a unique data set regarding the hydroelectric dam relicensing process in the United States. In this context, there is evidence that what is most consistently significant in affecting the battle entry decision across the interest groups under study is strategic considerations -- how many allies are expected to also get involved in a particular fight and, even more importantly, who the enemy is that you will be up against.
The U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) must balance environmental protection of riverine resources with the nation's growing demand for power production every time it issues a hydroelectric license. This paper models the bureaucratic agency's decision-making process in issuing these licenses. Data on nearly 500 hydro-power licenses issued from 1983 to 2005 are utilized. It is discovered that legislative and institutional constraints are, by far, the largest influences on FERC's regulatory decisions, implying that if the current allocation of surface water in the United States is considered inefficient, the most effective way to alter this allocation is by passing new legislation, or by implementing institutional reform at FERC.
This study has compared the accumulated environmental impacts from 27 small-scale hydropower plants with 3 large hydropower projects. The results show a slight tendency that large hydropower has a lower degree of impacts than many small-scale projects, but lack of precision in the data and weak methodological foundation introduces uncertainty in the results. Taking into account other benefits such as the provision of regulated power, it is reasonable to assume that a few large hydropower projects will produce electricity to a lower environmental cost compared to many small projects, which should be considered when realizing renewable energy policy objectives.
Copyright © 2020, Hydropower Reform Coalition.