Did You Know We’re Modernizing American Hydropower?

“By utilizing currently untapped resources and unleashing American ingenuity, hydropower production will lower energy costs and help create new jobs.”

-House Republican Conference Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers.

In case you’re too busy, here’s a quick summary:

-Hydropower is a clean, renewable, reliable and affordable resource that is essential to an all-of-the-above energy strategy for the U.S.

-Hydropower is underutilized (only 6 percent of total U.S. electricity generation) due to a complicated and lengthy licensing process.

-This bill modernizes the licensing process, making it shorter and simpler in order that we might tap into the potential of hydropower generation in the U.S.

On November 8, 2017, House Republicans voted to pass the Hydropower Policy Modernization Act of 2017. Yes, it’s a mouthful of a name, but once you break it down, it’s quite simple.


Water power. It’s a renewable resource in which power (usually electricity) is derived from the energy of falling or fast running water.

It is clean, renewable, reliable, and affordable. The environmental and economic benefits of hydropower are innumerable. According to the U.S. Department of Energy’s 2016 Hydropower Vision report, the untapped potential for hydropower in the U.S. would avoid 5.6 billion metric tons of CO2 emissions, save an estimated $209 million in avoided damages, and create more than 195,000 jobs.

Unfortunately, in 2015 hydropower only accounted for 6 percent of total U.S. electricity generation and only 46 percent of generation among renewable resources. In fact, less than 3 percent of U.S. dams are used to produce electricity.

According to research by the U.S. Department of Energy, hydropower production could grow by 50 percent simply by upgrading existing facilities and adding generation capacity to existing dams. In other words, we can double hydropower production and tap into all of the aforementioned benefits without building a single new dam.

So what’s the problem?

Hydropower Policy

Currently, it can take up to 10 years or longer to license a new hydropower project or relicense an existing facility. To put that in perspective, it only takes about 18 months to license a new natural gas facility.

Recently the Committee on Energy and Commerce examined the role and process of hydropower licensing and found that a combination of duration, complexity and regulatory uncertainty perpetuated the challenges and delays in expanding U.S. hydropower production. Basically, licensing/relicensing these facilities takes extensive and arduous consultation with multiple government entities all trying to balance a variety of issues.

As the House Republican Conference Chair put it, “It’s time to fix this arbitrary, out of date approval process and make hydropower production easier and less costly.”

Hydropower Policy Modernization

So the problem is in the licensing process. It’s slow, complicated, and capricious. If we want to effectively tap into the potential of hydropower in the U.S., we must change (or modernize) this policy.

This bipartisan effort has been underway for years. In that time, the Committee on Energy and Commerce has identified ways to modernize the permitting process and encourage the expansion of hydropower facilities through administrative efficiency, accountability and transparency.

But how?

Hydropower Policy Modernization Act of 2017

This legislation designates the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) as the lead agency for coordinating all applicable Federal authorizations and establishes procedures for the licensing of hydropower projects.

By designating FERC as the lead when coordinating with agencies, states, and tribes, there will be added transparency and collaboration. This added certainty in the relicensing process will diminish the burden on the resource agencies and help avoid unnecessary delays and ultimately lower costs.

This legislation also incentivizes capital intensive projects like updating turbines or improving fish ladders. Right now, these upgrades are only included in the lifespan of a dam’s license during the relicensing window.

This is all without compromising important environmental protections. Among other things, this reform will have no effect on clean water, endangered species, or national historic preservation.

When House Republicans voted to pass this bill, they helped to streamline and improve the procedures that will unlock the potential of American hydropower.

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This country cannot stand to lose the valuable environmentally-friendly and carbon free resource that is hydropower – that’s why we are taking action.

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