House Subcommittee on Energy Mulls Legislation to Modernize Hydropower Infrastructure and Streamline Permitting

On May 3, 2017, the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee held a hearing to examine a suite of proposed legislation aimed at incentivizing development of hydropower in the United States.  A Committee Majority Staff memorandum dated May 1, 2017, describes hydropower as “an essential component” of the United States’ “‘all of the above’ energy strategy,” but notes that testimony before the Subcommittee has indicated that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s licensing process is costly, complex, and slow.  The hearing explored opportunities, including draft legislation, aimed at removing regulatory impediments and encouraging new investment in hydropower:

  • H.R. ___, Hydropower Policy Modernization Act of 2017, which in part would give FERC authority to extend preliminary license terms and project construction deadlines, require FERC to consider a broader range of project-related investments in establishing the license term for a hydro project, and designate FERC as the lead agency for coordinating all applicable federal authorizations for hydropower projects;
  • H.R. ___, Promoting Hydropower Development at Existing Non-Powered Dams Act, which would authorize FERC to grant exemptions from licensing requirements to qualifying projects that energize existing, non-powered dams and limit the conditions imposed on projects granted such exemptions;
  • H.R. ___, Promoting Closed-Loop Pumped Storage Hydropower Act, which would limit FERC’s ability to impose license conditions on closed-loop pumped storage projects unless necessary to protect public safety, or reasonable, economically feasible, and essential to prevent loss of or damage to, or to mitigate adverse impacts to, fish and wildlife resources; and
  • H.R. ___, Promoting Small Conduit Hydropower Facilities Act of 2017, which defines a new subcategory of qualifying conduit hydropower facilities that are 2 MW or fewer—i.e., “qualifying small conduit hydropower facilities”—and creates a faster FERC permitting process for such facilities.

Witnesses included hydropower industry representatives as well as Terry Turpin, Director of the FERC Office of Energy Projects, and John Katz, FERC Deputy Associate General Counsel.  If enacted, the legislation will build on efforts already underway at the agency level to streamline hydro permitting.

Additionally, several of the bills would authorize FERC to grant extensions of mandatory construction deadlines for the following hydroelectric projects:

  • H.R. 446, related to the planned Flannagan Hydro Project on the Pound River near Clintwood, Virginia;
  • H.R. 447, related to the planned Gathright Hydro Project on the Jackson River in Alleghany County, Virginia; and
  • H.R. 2122, related to Jennings Randolph Hydro Project on the North Branch of the Potomac River near Barnum, West Virginia and Swanton, Maryland.

Additional topics discussed at the hearing included contemplated legislation to revamp permitting for cross-border oil, natural gas, and electric transmission facilities, and to revise the siting process for interstate natural gas pipelines.

A preliminary transcript of the hearing is available on the House website.

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