Trump signs bill aimed at promoting hydropower development

President Donald Trump on Oct. 23 signed the America’s Water Infrastructure Act of 2018 (AWIA), a measure that includes several provisions aimed at promoting hydropower deployment.

In an Oct. 10 news release issued after the Senate passed the legislation earlier this month, the National Hydropower Association said that the bill would:

  • Facilitate a more efficient licensing process for proposed projects at existing non-powered dams and for closed-loop pumped storage;
  • Shorten the approval timeline for projects utilizing existing conduits;
  • Provide regulatory incentives for investments at existing hydropower facilities; and
  • Modernize preliminary permit terms and deadlines for starting construction of newly licensed projects.

Washington state’s Chelan County PUD said on Oct. 23 that the measure, S. 3021, “includes an important provision that will spur investments in existing hydropower dams.”  Chelan County PUD noted that it has been seeking the legislative change for five years as it prepares to relicense the Rock Island Dam. Additional details about the dam are available here.

Chelan PUD General Manager Steve Wright said that Congress “has recognized that it is good public policy to encourage hydropower licensees to make new investments during the existing hydro license term, rather than waiting for relicensing. This provides value to Chelan PUD utility customers by protecting our long-term investment in Rock Island. It also allows us to discuss other actions we can take, in advance of relicensing, with stakeholders that are willing to make early commitments.”

The measure directs the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to weigh early investments at hydropower projects when deciding the length of the next federal operating license. 

Under the Federal Power Act, license terms are between 30–50 years. In 2017, FERC issued a policy stating that most new licenses will be for 40 years, with the potential to earn a 50-year license under certain conditions, the PUD said.

However, there was still uncertainty around the types of investments that might count, the PUD noted. The new law ensures that “. . . redevelopment, new construction, new capacity, efficiency, modernization, rehabilitation or replacement of major equipment, safety improvements, or environmental, recreation, or other protection, mitigation, or enhancement measures . . .” can help earn a longer license term. 

The provision was part of a larger bill that passed the House by voice vote and the Senate by a recorded vote of 99-1. 

The hydropower section received active, bipartisan support under the guidance of Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., and Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., the PUD noted.

Cantwell and McMorris Rodgers have worked on the “early action” concept in various forms over the past several years, the PUD said.

Cantwell is Ranking Member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, while McMorris Rodgers is a member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.