In Our View: Increasing Hydropower

Cantwell bill would allow Washington to increase its role in renewable energy

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There's much to like about the Hydropower Improvement Act of 2013. Congress is urged to swiftly pass the measure for the following reasons:The act enables Washington to increase its role as the hydropower kingpin of America. No state generates more emissions-free, renewable hydropower than Washington. U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash, one of the bill's authors, pointed out last week: "More hydropower capability means an increased supply of affordable clean energy, which helps make Washington state a leading place to live and do business."

This bill is generating a rare bipartisan spirit in Congress. Along with Cantwell, the bill's supporters in Senate include Republicans Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Mike Crapo of Idaho and James Risch of Idaho, plus Democrats Ron Wyden of Oregon, Patty Murray of Washington and Mark Begich of Alaska. In the House, a companion bill has been introduced by Republican Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington. Such an array of conservative-liberal thinkers ought to lead Congress to act, but these days, no one should take anything for granted when it comes to progress inside the Beltway.

Environmentalists ought to appreciate the fact that this legislation would increase hydropower production without building new dams. It would boost capacity on existing dams and encourage hydropower production on conduit projects such as canals. The act embraces cutting-edge, visionary technology, which is driving small hydropower projects. It would add power generation to existing dams that currently do not serve that purpose. It would promote the micro-dam technology that is being researched and applied throughout the Northwest.

All parts of America would benefit from this act; 97 percent of the nation's dams don't generate power. With Washington showing the way, the functions of many of those dams could multiple rapidly.

Passage of this bill would, in a couple of ways, result in less government. The measure calls for the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to exempt small conduit projects. Approval processes that now take four or more years would be studied with the intent of streamlining the permitting to two years.

Existing infrastructure would be encouraged to increase capacity. Turbine upgrades and other projects could lead to more energy produced by the same amount of water.

Agriculture would be advanced by passage of this bill. Hydropower does more than just produce three-fourths of our state's electricity; it also waters Washington's famous apple orchards and other agricultural operations.

This act would ease standards of voter-approved Initiative 937 (2006), which increased requirements in the percentages of electric power produced by renewable sources. According to the Tri-City Herald, this bill "would allow power generated by hydroelectric projects in irrigation canals to qualify as renewable energy."

Members of Congress have ample reasons to pass the Hydropower Improvement Act of 2013. We'll see if they can break the gridlock and allow clean-energy production for the Northwest and the nation to move forward.