Throughout June 2020, a number of legislative proposals poised to impact hydropower resources have been introduced in Congress.  On Monday, June 22, Democratic members of the House of Representatives released H.R. 2, the Moving Forward Act, which aims to encourage investment in infrastructure and includes several provisions on hydropower and dam safety.  On Monday June 29, Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers (WA-05) introduced the Hydropower Clean Energy Future Act which includes updates to the licensing process for non-federal hydroelectric projects and promotes innovation of new generation technologies that would protect the environment and natural resources while providing additional reliability services to the nation’s electric grid.  Finally, on June 30, Democratic members of the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis released a Climate Crisis Action Plan, which includes provisions on hydropower and marine energy facilities.

Moving Forward Act

In response to the May 2020 breach of Sanford and Edenville dams in Michigan (see June 1, 2020 edition of the WER), the Moving Forward Act requires FERC to develop a report to the House Energy and Commerce Committee on the causes of the dam failures and a determination of whether FERC’s dam safety procedures should be updated as a result.  It also proposes to amend sections 10 and 15 of the Federal Power Act to provide additional assurances that FERC’s dam safety requirements have been satisfied, and to require FERC to establish procedures to determine the financial ability of a license applicant to meet dam safety requirements.  The bill also would require that FERC hold a dam safety technical conference by April 2021 to provide information to States on dam maintenance and repair, risk informed decision making, climate and hydrological changes that may affect the safety and structural integrity of dams, and high hazard dams.  A related provision of the House Transportation Committee’s Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) of 2020 would amend the National Dam Safety Program run by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).  Section 135 of the WRDA would bring FERC-licensed projects that are 1.5 MW or less under the jurisdiction of the FEMA program, potentially requiring those dam owners and operators to comply with the safety programs of both FERC and FEMA.

Hydropower Clean Energy Future Act

The Hydropower Clean Energy Future Act, introduced by Representative McMorris-Rodgers, affirms that hydropower is a “renewable resource” for purposes of all Federal programs and updates Federal renewable purchase requirements to include hydropower.  It also designates FERC as the lead agency for the purposes of all Federal authorizations and for complying with any required State or local environmental reviews.  The bill aims to improve coordination among permitting agencies by setting schedules, clarifying responsibilities, and establishing mechanisms to resolve disputes among licensing participants.     

The bill provides exemptions from licensing requirements for certain small hydroelectric projects that are unlikely to jeopardize threatened or endangered species or critical habitat.  Importantly, it would require that mandatory conditions under sections 4(e) and 18 of the Federal Power Act mitigate environmental effects of the licensed project.  It also provides for the expedited licensing of “next-generation” hydropower projects that utilize technologies that protect, mitigate, or enhance environmental resources and are not in “widespread, utility-scale use in the United States.”

Lastly, the bill requires a report to Congress describing barriers to the development of conventional, pumped-storage, conduit, and emerging hydropower technologies and identifying mechanisms to encourage proper compensation for the full range of services that hydropower provides to the electric grid, including grid reliability and the cost-effective integration of renewables.

Climate Crisis Action Plan

The Climate Crisis Action Plan outlines policies intended to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions in the United States by 2050, including a clean power standard for electric utilities, a zero-emissions vehicle standard, and a price on carbon.  With respect to hydroelectric generation, the plan would establish a clean energy standard to attain net-zero electricity sector emissions by 2040, and would include hydropower as a zero-emission technology.  It would also recommend that Congress expand the production tax credit for qualified hydropower facilities and re-authorize sections 242 and 243 of the Energy Policy Act of 2005, which provide incentive payments to make efficiency improvements at existing hydropower facilities, or to retrofit existing dams and conduits with generating facilities (House Democrats also included the re-authorization of section 242 in the Moving Forward Act, discussed above).  Finally, the plan recommends that Congress expand research, development, and deployment of marine energy technologies and increase funding for the Department of Energy’s Water Power Technologies Office to do so.

The full text of the Moving Forward Act is available here, the Hydropower Clean Energy Future Act is available here, the Water Resources Development Act is available here, and the Climate Crisis Action Plan is available here.