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Press Release

Federal Regulatory Process Clouds Renewable Energy Growth

Today, the Subcommittee on Water, Power and Oceans held an oversight hearing to examine the limited growth of hydropower and barriers to expansion.

Hydropower is clean, renewable and emissions-free yet still faces large hurdles in the federal regulatory process. Washington state witness Jessica Matlock, Director of Government Relations for Snohomish County Public Utility District No. 1, called for an improved federal hydropower re-licensing process.

“In the modern era, we need to recognize the need for renewables and emissions free energy sources. We need to modernize our regulatory processes and obtain better coordination. One example that we recently went through that we had issues with was a title energy project, the first ever in the nation. It succumbed to current outdated processes. This was our project. We spent 8 years trying to get this permitted that was only supposed to take 6 months. We actually had to end the project because of costs escalating beyond our control because it took us 8 years, ” Matlock said.

California witness Debbie Powell, Senior Director of Power Generation Operations at Pacific Gas and Electric Company, called on Congress to address four areas to overcome hydropower licensing inefficiencies.

“To overcome the existing licensing inefficiencies, while maximizing hydropower’s potential and promoting additional transparency, Congress should focus on addressing the following four areas: improving coordination between federal and State environmental reviews, better defining the extent of authorities by federal agencies, improving federal agency coordination and transparency, and improving federal and State agency coordination and transparency,” Powell stated.

Another California witness Steve Boyd, Director of Water Resources and Regulatory Affairs of the Turlock Irrigation District, commented on the challenges of the current system.

“The Districts want to do the right thing for our community, and the environment, and we think it is fair to want those actions to be based on science and the multiple studies we have conducted based on a collaborative process by all stakeholders. However, what we have found is no desire or incentive for certain resource agencies to engage in a meaningful way, throughout the process, waiting until the end when they have more bargaining power. We believe, when it comes to mandatory conditioning authority, there are no checks in the systems and improvements are needed,” Turlock said.

The chances for development of new hydropower facilities are vast, especially on federal land. However, the permitting process for renewing existing non-federal hydropower and new projects must be improved before substantial development can occur.

“Hydropower is a hidden resource—its blades are often covered by concrete; they don’t spin on mountaintops and they don’t look like giant mirrors, but they have a proven track record of keeping the lights on and actually enable other renewable technologies by acting as their backup battery,” Subcommittee Vice Chair Paul Gosar (R-AZ) said.

Click here to view the full witness testimony.