Hydropower Bills Open Gates Of Bipartisanship In Congress

By Jessica Robinson

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 …

Chairman Ron Wyden: “All in favor say 'aye'.”
Committee: “Aye”
Ron Wyden: “All opposed say 'no'.”
Committee: “…”
Ron Wyden: “The ayes appear to have it ...”

The 7.5-megawatt Youngs Creek hydroelectric dam near Sultan, Wash. Photo: Snohomish County PUDSenators 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.

Neil Neroutsos: “These projects we feel we can develop in a way that's environmentally benign. 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.

Photo: The 7.5-megawatt Youngs Creek hydroelectric dam near Sultan, Wash. Photo: Snohomish County PUD

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