Senate Natural Resources Committee Ranking Member Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) introduced bipartisan legislation to accelerate the deployment of hydropower projects across the country. According to Murkowski, the Hydropower Improvement Act of 2011 "achieves common sense regulatory reform, spurs economic growth and takes advantage of hydropower's position as the country's leading source of clean, renewable energy." Co-sponsor, Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) pointed out that the bill includes provisions that address hydropower development from smaller sources, emphasize the need to improve efficiency at existing facilities, and encourage development of hydropower at existing, non-electrified dams.

Key provisions of the Hydropower Improvement Act, as summarized by the National Hydropower Association ("NHA"), include the following:

  • Grant Program: Directs the U.S. Department of Energy ("DOE") to establish a competitive grant program to support efficiency improvements or capacity additions at existing hydropower facilities; adding generation to non-electrified dams; addressing aging infrastructure; conduit projects; environmental studies; and environmental mitigation measures.
  • Non-Powered Dams and Pumped Storage: Directs the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission ("FERC") to explore a potential two-year licensing process for hydropower development at existing non-powered dams and closed-loop pumped storage projects.
  • Conduit and Small Hydro: Allows for conduit projects on federal lands and directs FERC and other federal agencies to enter into a Memorandum of Understanding ("MOU") to better coordinate reviews of these projects. Requires regional workshops to reduce barriers and investigate improvements to the regulatory process for small hydro and conduit projects.
  • Federal Hydropower Development: Requires the Departments of Energy and the Interior and the Army Corps of Engineers to report to Congress on the impelmentation of the March 24, 2010 MOU on increasing federal hydropower development. Also, directs FERC and the Bureau of Reclamation (the "Bureau") to complete a new MOU to improve the coordination and timeliness of non-federal hdyropower development at Bureau projects.
  • R&D Program: Requires DOE to develop and implement a plan to increase the nation's use of hydropower through research, development, and demonstration initiatives.
  • Studies: Directs DOE to study pumped storage project opportunities on federal and non-federal lands near existing or potential sites of intemittent renewable resource development, and a study of hydorpower potential from existing conduits. Directs the Bureau to study barriers to non-federal development at Bureau projects.

 The NHA has lauded the bill and each of its nine co-sponsors for recognizing "the vital role of hydropower as an affordable, reliable, available and sustainable domestic energy source."

In addition to Sens. Murkowski and Bingaman, the bill's co-sponsors are Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Mark Begich (D-AK), Mike Crapo (R-ID), Patty Murray (D-WA), James Risch (R-ID), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), and Ron Wyden (D-OR).