Heller calls for streamlined permitting for hydro projects

Aug 17, 2016

Heller calls for streamlined permitting for hydro projects

MRES CEO Tom Heller participated in a panel discussion May 6 during a U.S. Department of Energy Quadrennial Energy Review (QER) in Des Moines.

Heller called on the federal government to streamline the permitting process for developing hydroelectric projects at existing dams. He pointed out that the Department of Energy's Oak Ridge National Laboratory has recently completed an assessment of the ability of existing non-powered dams across the U.S. to generate electricity.

According to the study, there are more than 80,000 non-powered facilities. "The study found that more than 50,000 of these are suitable to support a total of 12 gigawatts of clean, renewable baseload hydropower," Heller said.

Heller told participants that MRES and the Western Minnesota Municipal Power Agency are constructing the Red Rock Hydroelectric Project (RRHP), a 36-megawatt hydropower plant on the existing Red Rock Dam on the Des Moines River near Pella, Iowa. RRHP is expected to be operational in 2018.

"This project was mentioned in the President's Climate Action Plan in June 2013 as being listed on the Infrastructure Permitting Dashboard to demonstrate improved permitting for hydropower projects," Heller said. "We were pleased to be recognized, however, we are frustrated that despite the recognition, it will take 13 years to get this project done when it is completed in 2018." Construction of the plant comprises only four of those years.

Heller said that facilities such as new hydropower and pumped storage plants take much too long to come online due to the disjointed permitting process. "These facilities could be providing significant generation and storage services," he said. "There needs to be [hydro licensing] reform. It shouldn't take 13 years to build a hydroprower facility. There needs to be more value placed on storage in the market for hydro to get built."

Energy legislation passed by the Senate (S.212) contains some language that begins permitting reform, however more is needed. The legislation designates the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission as the lead agency for hydropower permitting, but Heller said that more needs to be done to streamline hydropower permitting so facilities can be built in a reasonable timeframe.