In a stunning twist, the hydropower industry finds itself drowning in red tape, putting the nation’s electricity supply at risk. Despite being a crucial contributor, generating nearly 80,000 megawatts of power and accounting for a significant portion of renewable energy, hydropower is shackled by regulatory hurdles that other clean energy sources seem to escape unscathed.
Malcolm Woolf, President and CEO of the National Hydropower Association (NHA), expressed concern over the lack of clarity and the exorbitant costs associated with the licensing process. Fearing grid instability, Woolf highlighted the irony of adding variable wind and solar power while neglecting the backbone of reliable hydropower.
Obtaining an original license for new hydro projects takes an average of five years, and relicensing existing facilities can take nearly eight years. The process involves a labyrinthine web of involvement from up to 11 federal agencies, with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission having a unique role exclusive to hydropower. This stark contrast in treatment adds insult to injury.
The clock is ticking, with a significant portion of non-federal hydropower licenses expiring between 2030 and 2035. Woolf warned that without streamlining the permitting process, hydropower facilities might be forced to shut down, leaving millions without power and deterring energy developers from investing further.
A report from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory revealed that around 90% of projects seeking original licenses give up before obtaining one. The permitting hurdles disproportionately affect smaller existing facilities and proposed projects, while renewable alternatives enjoy a far more lenient process. This disparity overlooks the crucial role of hydropower as a reliable 24/7 carbon-free energy source, essential for meeting constant demand.
Erik Steimle, Executive Vice President of Rye Development, emphasized the necessity of hydropower’s reliability in a world reliant on intermittent renewables. As electricity needs persist even when the sun sets and the wind subsides, Steimle championed hydropower as the solution. He highlighted how areas with abundant hydropower enjoy some of the nation’s lowest electricity costs, further underscoring its importance.
Despite recent growth in wind and solar power, hydropower’s status as the leading renewable energy source has been usurped. While the nation pivots towards newer technologies, the foundational reliability of hydropower faces neglect. Energy developers like Rye Development are pushing for reform, seeking to overcome lengthy permitting timelines that hinder the rapid integration of hydropower.
With discussions on energy permitting reform taking place in Congress, lawmakers recognize the urgent need to expedite the development of all energy forms. Both Senate Democrats and Republicans are negotiating to find a compromise, while the White House has also emphasized the importance of streamlining the hydropower licensing process. Sens. Steve Daines and Maria Cantwell have introduced bipartisan legislation to expedite hydro licensing, gaining support from various stakeholders.
Amidst the clamor for clean energy, it is essential not to disregard the powerhouse that hydropower represents. The regulatory burdens it faces threaten a stable energy supply, overshadowing its critical role as a reliable, affordable, and clean source of electricity that powers our nation.