H.R. 2842: Bureau of Reclamation Small Conduit Hydropower Development and Rural Jobs Act of 2011, introduced by U.S. Representative Scott Tipton

September 14, 2011

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Here’s the link to the bill on Govtrack.us. The bill was referred to the Subcommittee on Water and Power from the House Committee on Natural Resources on September 7.

Here’s the release from Representative Tipton’s office:

This week, Rep. Scott Tipton (CO-R) introduced H.R. 2842, The Bureau of Reclamation Small Conduit Hydropower Development and Rural Jobs Act of 2011.

This legislation seeks to streamline the regulatory process and reduce administrative costs for small hydropower development at Reclamation’s facilities while supporting the creation of badly needed rural jobs. H.R. 2842 authorizes power development at the agency’s conduits to clear up multi-agency confusion and duplicative processes and reduces the regulatory costs associated with hydropower development.

“At a time when our country needs to focus on domestic energy production and job creation, hydropower can play a critical role in providing clean renewable energy while expanding job opportunities in rural America,” Tipton said. “Hydropower is the cheapest and cleanest source of electricity available through modern technology, and a key component of an ‘all of the above’ energy platform that I continue to strongly support.”

Hydropower is the highest source of non-carbon emitting energy in the world and accounts for approximately 75% of the United States’ total renewable electricity generation, making it the leading renewable energy source of power. Nearly 37% of Colorado’s renewable energy is hydropower, but only 3.7% of all Colorado energy is hydropower.

“Colorado has a significant opportunity to follow the lead of many of its western neighbors and expand on this clean, renewable source of power while creating badly needed jobs for the Third district and Colorado in the process,” Tipton said.

Background

Many rural water and irrigation districts and electric utilities in Colorado and other western states seek to develop hydropower on Bureau of Reclamation water canals and pipelines, but over-burdensome and unnecessary regulations stand in the way. Increased conduit hydropower serves a number of purposes: it produces renewable and emissions-free energy that can be used to pump water or sell electricity to the grid; it can generate revenue for the hydropower developer to help pay for aging infrastructure costs and water/power facility modernization; and it can create local jobs and generate revenue to the federal government.

One thing stands in the way of such common-sense development: outdated and unnecessary federal regulations. H.R. 795, introduced in the House of Representatives by Congressman Adrian Smith and Jim Costa, provides regulatory reform for non-federal conduit hydropower generation, and I believe it’s time to begin reform for hydropower development on federal conduits as well.

As it stands, federal regulations hinder this development on federal projects and subject job creators to unnecessary requirements which render small hydropower projects economically unfeasible.

H.R. 2842 seeks to remove one major economic handcuff: unnecessary environmental analysis. Even though Reclamation conduit hydropower units would already be on disturbed ground within existing facilities that have already gone through federal environmental review, another National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) analysis must still be done in this case under existing regulations. This is done despite the fact that the Interior Department’s current Reclamation Manual allows for NEPA categorical exclusions for “Minor construction activities associated with authorized projects…which merely augment or supplement, or are enclosed within existing facilities.”

H.R. 2842 also substantially reduces administrative costs so that the projects are no longer cost prohibitive. Instead of the current process where Reclamation must painstakingly analyze each and every proposal for development, the bill gives the first development right to the entity/entities operating and maintaining the federal conduit. Most Reclamation irrigation and water supply projects have an arrangement where operation and maintenance activities are transferred to the local beneficiary as a way to reduce paperwork and other costs. The rationale for the legislation’s first right of refusal provision is that the non-federal operator knows the details of the facility and is locally invested into the project. This provision would significantly decrease conduit hydropower planning costs.

The hydropower development encouraged by this legislation will not harm the environment since the generation units would be placed on already disturbed ground within existing facilities that have already gone through federal environmental review. H.R. 2842 also protects water users by specifically re-affirming hydropower development as secondary to water supply and delivery purposes and ensuring that there will be no financial and operational impacts to existing water and power users. Furthermore, H.R. 2842 protects agreements that the water users have on existing conduit generation projects and provides additional safeguards to ensure such projects do not undermine water deliveries.

H.R. 2842 is supported by the Family Farm Alliance, the National Water Resources Association, and the American Public Power Association, among others.

Here’s a report from Reid Wright writing for the Cortez Journal. From the article:

The Cortez lawmaker’s proposed legislation, The Small Conduit Hydropower Development and Rural Jobs Act of 2011, seeks to eliminate a second environmental analysis of small hydroelectric projects built within existing water facilities already approved by the National Environmental Policy Act.

The bill is also aimed at reducing administrative costs by giving more authority to local entities and protecting water users by assuring electricity generation is secondary to water delivery.

Under the bill, the secretary of the interior will first offer the lease of power privilege to a local irrigation district or water users association.

Tipton’s bill is related to the Small-Scale Hydropower Enhancement Act of 2011, sponsored by Adrian Smith, R-Neb, aimed at regulatory reform for non-federal hydropower generation.

The Small Conduit Hydropower Development and Rural Jobs Act of 2011 is targeted specifically at federal hydroelectric facilities producing 1.5 megawatts of power or less.

More hydroelectric coverage here and here.


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