An effort to streamline the regulatory process for small hydropower dams is generating a rare moment of bipartisanship in Congress. Two bills sailed through a Senate committee Wednesday. They've already passed the House.
Whatever gridlock exists elsewhere, it didn't show up in the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. A voice vote was unanimous.
Senators from the hydropower-rich Northwest helped lead the charge – Oregon Democrat Ron Wyden, Washington Democrats Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray and Idaho Republicans Jim Risch and Mike Crapo. Washington Republican Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers backed the companion bill in the House.
Neil Neroutsos of the Snohomish County Public Utility District says it doesn't make sense for small, local hydropower projects to jump through the same hoops as mega-dams.
“These projects we feel we can develop in a way that's environmentally benign," Neroutsos says. "Often times they're built above natural barriers to fish that are migrating – (like) above waterfalls.”
A related bill would make it easier to generate hydropower in irrigation canals and pipelines overseen by the Bureau of Reclamation – including several in southern Idaho.
On the Web:
Small hydropower - Snohomish County PUD
S.306: Small conduit hydropower development - US Congress
S.545: Hydropower Improvement Act - US Congress