Trump signs “Early Action” hydro provision into law

WENATCHEE -- Hydropower projects just got a boost from Congress with the passage of S. 3021, the America’s Water Infrastructure Act of 2018.  The bill, signed into law by President Trump, includes an important provision that will spur investments in existing hydropower dams.  Chelan County PUD has been seeking the legislative change for five years as it prepares to relicense the Rock Island Dam.

“Hydropower faces new opportunities and challenges as demands on the electric system change,” Chelan PUD General Manager Steve Wright stated. “Congress has recognized that it is good public policy to encourage hydropower licensees to make new investments during the existing hydro license term, rather than waiting for relicensing. This provides value to Chelan PUD utility customers by protecting our long-term investment in Rock Island.  It also allows us to discuss other actions we can take, in advance of relicensing, with stakeholders that are willing to make early commitments,” he added.

The bill directs the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to weigh early investments at hydropower projects when deciding the length of the next federal operating license.  Under the Federal Power Act, license terms are between 30 – 50 years.  In 2017, FERC issued a policy stating that most new licenses will be for 40 years – with the potential to earn a 50-year license under certain conditions.  However, there was still uncertainty around the types of investments that might count.  The new law ensures that “. . . redevelopment, new construction, new capacity, efficiency, modernization, rehabilitation or replacement of major equipment, safety improvements, or environmental, recreation, or other protection, mitigation, or enhancement measures . . .” can help earn a longer license term.

The provision was part of a larger bill that passed the House by voice vote and the Senate by a recorded vote of 99-1.  The hydropower section received active, bipartisan support under the guidance of Washington legislators Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) and Representative Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA).  These lawmakers, who serve on the energy committees in the Senate and House, have worked on the “early action” concept in various forms over the past several years in an increasingly pro-hydro Congress.

“Senator Cantwell and Representative McMorris Rodgers are leading the nation on hydropower issues that make a real difference here at home. We would like to sincerely thank them both for championing this issue,” said Wright.

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