A bipartisan group of senators, including Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR), recently introduced legislation that seeks to remove barriers to national hydropower development. The legislation, geared toward fulfilling renewable energy portfolio goals, includes language that would remove regulatory hurdles for untapped conduit hydropower in urban and rural Oregon.
By Peter Beland
The Hydropower Improvement Act of 2011 (S. 629) was introduced last week by Energy and Natural Resources Committee Ranking Member Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and co-sponsored by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR). The legislation could help the development of conduit hydropower throughout the state. Conduits, or canals and other man made structures that transport water for municipal, agricultural or industrial purposes but not for hydroelectric power production, are found throughout the state and represent an untapped power source to many.
Jed Jorgenson of the Oregon Energy Trust has been working for the past three years with water stakeholders connected with the networks of Portland General Electric and Pacific Power to help micro-hydro power development. Though the energy trust can help qualified projects with initial costs, the number of projects that get off the ground is small in part because of high permitting fees. “A small project has to go through the same permitting as large project,” says Jorgenson. “The way it is now, it costs [at least] $20,000 to permit a 5-megawatt hydro project and $20,000 to permit a 5-kilowatt one.” The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission puts small-scale projects that could power ranches in the same category as larger projects.
If the legislation were enacted later this session, it would call for three regional stakeholder meetings throughout the country to discuss how to reduce permitting barriers and put conduit hydropower into its own category to exempt it from disproportionate regulation. Enterprise-based energy consulting firm Renewable Energy Solutions released a report last November stating that 19 conduits it studied in Wallowa County could produce one megawatt of energy, worth $244,000 annually.
Rural areas are not the only locations for conduit hydropower development. The water traveling through municipal pipes travels quickly and builds up pressure, energy that usually is released to make sure pipes don’t burst by pressure reduction valves. The City of Astoria is currently developing an urban conduit hydropower system to capture 37 kilowatts of energy through turbines in the city’s pipes. The energy produced would offset the annual electricity cost to run the city’s wastewater treatment center.
Astoria special projects consultant Mike Morgan is happy that project should be running by early fall, but laments that “We’re putting $25,000 [in FERC permitting fees] into a pre-existing pie. That seems excessive to me. Unless you’re sucking water out of a salmon stream, I think micro-hydro should be automatically exempt.”
Peter Beland is a contributing writer for Oregon Business.