THE EFFORT TO DEVELOP A NEW generation of hydroelectric turbines with improved environmental performance was dealt a serious blow by US Congress at the end of October 2001, with the final passage of the FY2002 Energy and Water spending bill.

While all other renewable technologies received increases in funding, hydro power, the nation’s leading renewable generation source, suffered a 40% decline once monies reserved for special projects in Alaska are removed.

‘Appropriators are being penny wise and pound foolish,’ said national-hydropower-association (NHA) executive director Linda Church Ciocci. ‘The key to unlocking the power of this nation’s rivers lies in providing safe and effective means for passing fish around, or through, hydro power dams. At a time when we should be investing in clean, renewable, reliable and domestic energy technologies, Congress has turned its back on renewable energy’s leading lady.

‘It’s unfortunate, but without a serious commitment from both Congress and the Bush Administration in the next funding cycle, this programme will just wither on the vine,’ Ciocci continued. ‘Tens of thousands of megawatts of hydroelectricity will go undeveloped and environmental improvements will be left undone.’

The Advanced Hydropower Turbines Systems programme, run by the US Department of Energy and cost-shared with industry, took a double hit in the appropriations process. It received US$4M less than Senate funding levels and was saddled with earmarks for two Alaskan development projects totalling US$2.3M.

While historically under-funded, the six-year research and development effort was nevertheless beginning to see results. In tests last year at the Bonneville dam on the Columbia river, a turbine with advanced features reduced fish injury by 40%, when compared with traditional turbines.