Last week, President Obama had a rare moment where he signed legislation passed by both houses in Congress - two bills make it easier to develop small hydropower in the US.
They streamline the process for generating more energy from existing dams, canals and other structures - no new construction required.
The bills are the first significant piece of energy legislation to come out of Congress since the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and will further diversify US energy sources.
The Hydropower Regulatory Efficiency Act (HR 267) and The Bureau of Reclamation Small Conduit Hydropower Development and Rural Jobs Act (HR 678) are expected to open 60 gigawatts of potential energy and could create 1.2 million jobs.
HR 267 streamlines the regulatory process for small hydro and other low-impact hydropower projects, such as those that add power generation to existing dams and closed-loop pumped storage projects.
- Increases the small hydro exemption to 10 megawatts (MW) (currently at 5MW)
- Removes conduit projects under 5 MW from FERC jurisdiction and increases the conduit exemption to 40 MW for all projects
- Gives FERC the ability to extend preliminary permits
- Requires FERC to examine a 2-year licensing process for non-powered dams and closed loop pump storage
H.R. 678 authorizes development of small hydropower at existing canals, pipelines, aqueducts, and other manmade waterways owned by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.
"Today, a bill to remove barriers to hydropower development, create rural jobs and lower electricity prices for American families became law," says Senator Barrasso (R-WY). "By cutting unnecessary Washington red tape, this law gives hydropower developers the certainty they need to move forward with new projects on over 40,000 miles of federal canals throughout the West."
There are 80,000 dams in the US, but just 3% produce electricity, according to the Denver Post. They point to a 2012 study by the Department of Energy and Oak Ridge National Lab that shows that optimizing existing structures - adding turbines to dams that don't have them and efficiency upgrades at older dams - could boost hydro generation 15% - 12 gigawatts.
Until now, even the smallest and least intrusive projects, such as those proposed by farmers to power irrigation systems, can take up to 18 months and lots of hassles to permit. Larger projects can take up to eight years, says Denver Post.
During the first quarter of 2013, 82% of all new US electrical capacity came from renewables: 6 wind farms (958 MW); 38 solar farms (537 MW); 28 biomass plants (46 MW) and just 4 small hydro plants added 5.4 MW.
In his first remarks after being sworn in as Secretary of the Department of Energy, Ernest Moniz pointed to small hydro and geothermal as priorities for underdeveloped energy sources.