WASHINGTON – Arizona is “sitting on a hydropower gold mine” butneeds the government to streamline regulations to turn that powerpotential into a reality, a Phoenix lawyer has told a congressionalsubcommittee.
Robert Lynch was one of two Arizonans testifying last week insupport of the Bureau of Reclamation Small-Conduit Hydro-powerDevelopment and Rural Jobs Act of 2011, which they said would helpgenerate clean energy, as well as income to help water districtspay their bills.
The bill is aimed at prompting private-sector development ofhydropower plants on federally owned canals and pipelines, saidRep. Paul Gosar, R-Flagstaff, one of the sponsors. It would exemptsmall plants – those generating less than 1.5 megawatts – fromrequirements of the National Environmental Policy Act, among otherchanges.
“Hydropower is a … clean, renewable, emissions-free source ofenergy that provides low-cost electricity and helps reduce carbonemissions,” said Gosar, who also said such projects could createjobs in rural areas. the bill was heard before the House NaturalResources subcommittee on water and power, of which Gosar is amember.
Grant Ward, a former general manager of the Maricopa-StanfieldIrrigation and Drainage District, testified on behalf of the FamilyFarm Alliance. He said his district has the potential for 14 to 17hydropower units that could generate up to 2,200 kilowatt-hours,enough to supply electricity to more than 550 homes or power six orseven deep-well pumps for irrigation.
But he said the district spent two years trying to get answersfrom federal agencies, often getting conflicting information thatstymied the project.
Lynch, who represented the National Water Resources Associationat the hearing, said the bill would eliminate waste and red tapeand lead to the creation of jobs.
“We are literally sitting on a hydropower gold mine waiting forthe needed clarifications and streamlining that will cut costs andmake this program more attractive,” Lynch said.
A Bureau of Reclamation official testified that while the agencysupports the intent of the bill, it has problems with some of thespecifics. David Murillo, the bureau’s deputy commissioner ofoperations, said his agency opposes the move to exempt smallprojects from environmental regulations.
“The department believes that environmental protections shouldcontinue to apply in the context of new construction undertaken onfederal lands,” he said in prepared testimony.
He noted that the bureau and the Federal Energy RegulatoryCommission, which also has the power to approve hydropowerlicenses, have several agreements in place to clarify authorityover the process. He said language in the bill that would specify abureau power resources officer as the lead point of contact on aproject could remove field-level employees, who have the bestknowledge of the situation, from the process.
Murillo said the bureau remained committed to “potential newhydropower projects that provide a high economic return for thenation, are energy-efficient and can be accomplished in accordancewith protections for fish and wildlife, the environment orrecreation.”
But Gosar said current regulations “create man-made shortages,which in turn lead to high unemployment and increased water, energyand food prices.”
Ward said the benefits of hydropower are too great not to takeaction that will clear the way for more projects.
“In the middle of the 110-degree summers in Central Arizona, wecan use the systems to reduce the requirement from the electricaldistrict so they can avoid overloads,” he said. “We can alsogenerate some income from the sale of the power to offsetoperational costs to the district.”