Hydropower, a crucial component of America’s renewable energy sector, is currently grappling with significant regulatory challenges that put the stability of our energy supply at risk.
The National Hydropower Association (NHA) and energy developers are raising concerns about the burdensome licensing process, which is hindering the development of new projects and threatening the future of existing ones.
With nearly 80,000 megawatts of power, hydropower accounts for 6.2% of total U.S. utility-scale electricity and an impressive 28.7% of total utility-scale renewable electricity, according to federal data. However, the regulatory hurdles faced by hydropower are disproportionately greater than those faced by other carbon-free energy sources.
NHA President and CEO Malcolm Woolf emphasizes the need for greater clarity in the licensing process, including the time and cost involved. Many asset owners are considering surrendering their licenses due to the uncertainties, which would result in a less stable power grid just as we integrate variable wind and solar sources.
According to the Department of Energy, it takes around five years for developers to obtain an original license for new hydro projects, while operators of existing facilities face an average of eight years for relicensing.
Additionally, a typical hydropower licensing process involves the participation of up to 11 federal agencies, including the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which is not involved in other renewable energy projects.
The urgency of the situation is compounded by the fact that a significant portion of non-federal hydropower licenses is set to expire between 2030 and 2035.
Without reforms that streamline the relicensing and licensing processes, these facilities may be forced to shut down, and energy developers may turn away, leaving millions of Americans without access to reliable power.
Woolf stresses the critical nature of the decision-making process, as companies must make choices several years in advance. Studies and assessments need to be completed before the application process, which can take five and a half years. An industry survey from last year revealed that over a third of hydropower, facility owners were actively considering decommissioning or surrendering their licenses. This is an issue that demands immediate attention and cannot be delayed for future Congresses.
A report from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory highlights that approximately 90% of projects seeking original licenses abandon their pursuit before receiving approval. Smaller existing facilities and proposed projects face the most significant permitting challenges, which hinder the growth of hydropower in our energy mix.
Advocates of hydropower emphasize its reliability compared to intermittent renewable alternatives like solar and wind. Hydropower serves as a dispatchable energy source, providing a steady supply of clean electricity that can meet high-demand periods or supplement low supply during unfavorable weather conditions. Regions with abundant hydropower resources often benefit from lower electricity costs.
Rye Development, a leading 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 that are grappling with the integration of wind and solar.
Erik Steimle, the executive vice president of Rye Development, highlights the need for reliable energy sources and emphasizes that hydropower is a dependable 24/7 provider of clean electricity.
The challenges facing hydropower have become more pressing as the renewable energy landscape evolves. While hydropower once accounted for almost 100% of the nation’s renewable power, wind power has surpassed it in recent years, 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, supported 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 improvements in the permitting process, recognizing the critical role of hydropower in America’s clean energy future.
It is imperative that we overcome the obstacles facing hydropower to ensure a stable and sustainable energy supply for all Americans.
By implementing regulatory reforms, streamlining permitting processes, and fostering bipartisan cooperation, we can unlock the full potential of hydropower and secure the future of America’s energy landscape. Let us unite in support of this vital industry that drives economic growth, creates jobs, and provides clean, affordable electricity for our nation.
Source Fox News