A presidential role

7 July 2010

The National Hydropower Association is keen to work with US President Obama, encouraged by his positive recognition of the role hydro power can play in serving national priorities

The past two years have signaled a renewed interest in the hydro power industry among policymakers at federal, state and even local levels throughout the US. From Washington State to Washington, DC, hydro power’s energy, economic and environmental benefits are providing policy options that address many of the country’s highest priorities.

The industry got its first sense of this increasing interest in hydro power when then-candidate Barack Obama told employees at Voith Hydro’s York, Pennsylvania, turbine-manufacturing plant that he believed in the industry’s potential and its contributions to a clean energy economy. As president, Obama has led an administration that recognises the role hydro power can play in serving national priorities.

 Other policymakers have also looked to hydro power as a resource for high priority issues. The recession, ongoing calls for climate and energy legislation, and the bipartisan interest in developing a national energy portfolio with a greater contribution from renewables, have all amplified attention for hydro power in Congress and at statehouses across the US.

For example, as Congress and the Obama Administration developed legislation to stimulate the economy, policymakers turned to hydro power and other renewables to generate jobs and new clean-energy resources simultaneously. Measures that support hydro power development, including extensions of production and investment tax credits, loans in lieu of tax credits for hydro technology investment, and expanded funding for Clean Renewable Energy Bonds, have spurred new hydro projects and created new jobs throughout the country.

 Job growth has been one of the highest priorities for both Congress and the Obama Administration, so the US hydro power industry has responded with new data about the potential job creation under various energy policy scenarios. In April 2010, the national-hydropower-association (nha) released the third part of this study, which outlines potential for direct, indirect and induced jobs under both current policies and an aggressive national renewable energy standard.

The findings underscored the industry’s role in a clean energy economy: with the right national policies in place, the US hydro power industry can generate more than 1.4M cumulative jobs by 2025.

Most importantly for policymakers around the country, these family-supporting jobs will occur in every state and in many different disciplines, including skilled, unskilled, and professional positions. Hydro power growth will also generate considerable economic activity in communities that host hydro industry businesses – nearly half of the jobs identified by NHA came in industries that will enjoy an induced benefit from hydro power. Officials understand that hydro power’s benefits can stretch from big steel mills to small local restaurants near manufacturing and generating facilities.

 The capacity projections in NHA’s study also helped bolster the case for including hydro power in national economic and environmental policies. The study showed that US hydro power resources have a theoretical potential to quadruple the current installed capacity of 100,000MW. Through strong national policies, the industry can develop more than 60,000MW of this potential by 2025 – the equivalent in capacity of 50 or 60 nuclear or coal plants.

A growing industry

The hydro power industry will also grow as more variable renewable energy come onto the grid. The US Department of Energy (DOE) predicts that growth in wind power alone will require an additional 50,000MW of energy storage on the grid, creating a strong opportunity for new pumped storage development.

Policymakers and environmentalists have been particularly interested to see that much of this growth can come through in technologies that have a minimal environmental impact. For instance, about 10,000MW of the capacity the industry can develop in the next 15 years can come from projects that convert some of the country’s 80,000 dams, which currently don’t generate electricity, to hydro generating facilities.  

Efficiency improvements at existing facilities, small hydro expansion, and development of new hydrokinetic, ocean, and tidal technologies are also seeing strong support from policymakers. Congress and the Administration have demonstrated their support for building these resources by increasing appropriations for DOE’s water power programme to US$50M – a huge increase considering that just seven years ago, the federal water power programme had been zeroed out.

 The White House has also shown its commitment to expanding national water power resources by encouraging greater federal cooperation on hydro power issues. Earlier this year, DOE, the US Department of the Interior (DOI), and the US Army Corps of Engineers signed a memorandum of understanding designed to foster collaboration among the three agencies. 

But, as NHA’s study demonstrates, hydro power can only continue its growth and achieve its potential with the right policies in place. NHA is calling for long-term extension of tax incentives and full incentive parity between hydropower and other renewable resources. That would provide developers with the long-term tax certainty they need to move forward on key projects.

NHA is also working to ensure that hydro power has a role in all upcoming national renewable energy standard or climate and energy legislation. Maintaining and expanding federal support for hydro power research and development will also be critical for bringing new technologies on line.

In the coming months, Congress will face mid-term elections, which may help drive the push for developing the country’s renewable-energy portfolio. The Obama Administration, which has called for doubling all renewable resources in the next 15 years, is also likely to continue its calls for a clean-energy economy with strong job creation. NHA and the US hydro power industry stand ready to work with the President and policymakers at all levels to ensure that hydro power resources will continue to serve national economic, energy and environmental priorities for generations to come.

For further information on the National Hydropower Association, please visit: www.hydro.org

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