Hydropower, the backbone of America’s renewable energy sector, is facing a dire situation due to burdensome regulatory processes that are hindering new projects and jeopardizing existing ones. The National Hydropower Association (NHA) and energy developers are sounding the alarm, warning that millions of Americans could lose access to reliable electricity if urgent action is not taken.
According to federal data, with nearly 80,000 megawatts of power, hydropower accounts for 6.2% of total U.S. utility-scale electricity and a staggering 28.7% of total utility-scale renewable electricity. However, the regulatory hurdles faced by hydropower far outweigh those encountered by other carbon-free energy sources.
NHA President and CEO Malcolm Woolf expressed his concern over the lack of clarity in the licensing process, including the time it takes and the cost involved.
Many asset owners are contemplating surrendering their licenses due to these uncertainties, which would result in a more unstable power grid at a time when variable wind and solar sources are being integrated.
The Department of Energy reveals that developers of new hydro projects typically spend around five years obtaining an original license. In comparison, operators of existing facilities face an average of eight years for relicensing.
Additionally, hydropower projects involve the participation of up to 11 different federal agencies, including the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which is not involved in other renewable energy ventures.
The urgency of the situation is exacerbated by the fact that a significant portion of non-federal hydropower licenses is set to expire between 2030 and 2035.
Without permitting reforms that streamline the relicensing and licensing processes, these facilities may be forced to shut down, and energy developers may look elsewhere for investments, leaving millions of Americans without power.
Woolf highlighted the time-sensitive nature of the decision-making process, as companies must decide whether to relicense their facilities several years in advance.
Environmental studies and other factors contribute to the lengthy process, often spanning over a decade. An industry survey from last year showed that over a third of hydropower, facility owners were considering decommissioning or surrendering their licenses. This pressing issue cannot be postponed for future Congresses; it demands immediate attention.
According to a report from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, approximately 90% of projects seeking original licenses ultimately abandon their pursuit before issuance. Smaller existing facilities and proposed projects face the greatest permitting hurdles, further hampering the growth of hydropower.
Proponents of hydropower emphasize its reliability compared to intermittent renewable alternatives such as solar and wind. Hydropower serves as a dispatchable energy source, providing a steady supply of carbon-free electricity that can meet high-demand periods or supplement low supply during unfavorable weather conditions. Areas in the United States with abundant hydropower resources often enjoy cheaper electricity rates.
Rye Development, a prominent hydro developer, specializes in leveraging existing dam infrastructure and closed-loop pump storage technology.
These innovations have the potential to expand the use of hydropower in energy systems grappling with the integration of wind and solar. Rye Development’s executive vice president, Erik Steimle, emphasized the need for reliable energy sources, stating that hydropower is a dependable 24/7 provider of clean electricity.
The obstacles faced by hydropower have become more pressing as the renewable energy landscape shifts. While hydropower once accounted for nearly 100% of the nation’s renewable power, wind power has recently surpassed it, and solar power has experienced remarkable growth of over 420% in the last decade.
Efforts are underway on Capitol Hill to address energy permitting reforms, aiming to expedite the development of all forms of energy.
Bipartisan legislation has been introduced to streamline hydro licensing, backed by stakeholders and policymakers who recognize the importance of hydropower in maintaining a balanced energy portfolio.
The White House has also acknowledged the need for permitting process improvements, recognizing the vital role of hydropower in America’s clean energy future.
The challenges facing hydropower must be swiftly overcome to ensure a reliable and sustainable energy supply for all Americans. Regulatory reform, streamlined permitting, and bipartisan cooperation are essential to unlock the full potential of hydropower and secure America’s energy future.
Let us stand together in supporting this critical industry that drives economic growth, creates jobs, and provides clean, affordable electricity for our nation.
Source Fox News