renewable energy development
to expand what is already the nation’s largest
renewable resource. Hydropower provides about
7 percent of the nation’s electricity, accounting
for roughly 65 percent of the nation’s renewable
energy generation. Current U.S. hydro generating capacity is approximately 100,000 MW.
Updated hydro resource assessments from
the DOE and the Bureau of Reclamation have
identified thousands of megawatts of additional,
economically feasible, untapped hydro resources. A Navigant Consulting study commissioned
by the National Hydropower Association found
that, with the right policies, the U.S. hydropower
industry could add about 60,000 MW of new
hydro capacity by installing more efficient turbines at existing hydro sites, increasing the use
of pumped storage projects, encouraging run-of-river projects, employing new marine and hydrokinetic technologies and developing new hydro
at existing dams. Nationwide, there are approximately 80,000 dams, only about 3 percent of
which currently include hydro. Pumped storage
is getting increasing attention as an opportunity
to “firm up” generation from intermittent renewable sources.
Hydro has managed to avoid the excessive
partisanship in Washington, D.C. Sen. Lisa
Murkowski (R-Alaska) introduced S. 629, the
comprehensive Hydropower Improvement Act,
with bipartisan co-sponsorship last spring.
34 January/February 2012 SOLAR TODA Y solartoday.org
Colo., is working to return to service its 1-MW
Castle Creek Hydro Plant, which was decommissioned in 1962.
Bob Risch, mayor of the mountain community of Ouray, Colo., realized that an abandoned
water supply pipeline created an opportunity to
save money for the city and offset the electricity
load for the city-owned Hot Springs Pools. With
a grant from the Colorado Governor’s Energy
Office, in 2010 Ouray completed installation of
a 20-k W hydro system.
For many mountain towns, the municipal
water system consists of a pipeline high up a
mountainside that carries water down to a water
treatment plant. The water system typically must
install pressure-reducing valves that can sometimes be profitably retrofitted with small hydro.
Copyright © 2012 by the American Solar Energy Society Inc. All rights reserved.
Assessing the Untapped Resource
For many years, conventional wisdom held
that hydropower was tapped out in terms of
opportunities for new development. Under the
Bush administration, hydropower was zeroed
out from the U.S. Department of Energy’s
The Obama administration has taken a fresh
look at developing hydro resources — seeking
Cutting Regulatory Red Tape
One of the biggest barriers to small hydro
development has been federal permitting
requirements. Under the Federal Power Act,
grid-connected small hydropower projects are
subject to permitting requirements that can be
particularly onerous for small projects.
In December 2009, FERC held a public conference to solicit input from small-hydro developers about how to make the permitting process
easier. FERC subsequently published updated
small-hydro permitting information on its website, including templates to simplify the process.
In August 2010, the state of Colorado
announced a memorandum of understanding
with FERC. The Colorado Governor’s Energy
Office is simplifying permitting for “
incidental hydro,” which takes advantage of existing
infrastructure such as pipelines. Eligible projects for the program must qualify for a Conduit Exemption or a 5-MW Exemption under
The first hydro project approved by FERC
under the new program was announced in Sep-
Small hydro projects typically take advantage of existing infrastructure to minimize environmental
impact. Last March, the Bureau of Reclamation released an assessment of hydro potential at dams built
by Reclamation. It is completing a similar assessment of Reclamation-owned canals.
In addition to existing dams and pipelines,
irrigation ditches and canals can be retrofitted
with hydro, although there has not yet been a
comprehensive national study of untapped
hydro potential of canals. The Bureau of Reclamation is completing an assessment of hydro
potential in Reclamation-owned canals.