President signs Tipton’s hydropower
Measure unravels red tape for green energy
Journal Photo/Jim Mimiaga
A bill sponsored by Congressmen Scott Tipton (R-Cortez) that streamlines the process for authorizing small hydropower plants passed both houses of Congress and was signed into law by President Obama on Friday.
House Resolution 678, “The Bureau of Reclamation Small Conduit Hydropower Development and Rural Jobs Act,” amends current law by removing bureaucratic red tape and redundant environmental reviews for small hydro projects.
“I am honored that I was able to lead the charge for this common-sense effort that received broad bipartisan support at the local and national level,” Tipton said in a Monday press release. “Hydropower is the cheapest and cleanest source of electricity available through modern technology, and a key component of the all-of-the-above energy platform that I continue to strongly support.”
The bill is specific to hydro-power plants perceived for canals and infrastructure on current Bureau of Reclamation operations, such as the Dolores Project. Currently, projects are delayed and are costly due to lengthy reviews required under National Environmental Policy Act.
HR 678 allows small hydro projects on Bureau systems to qualify for a “categorical exclusion” provision under NEPA, thereby reducing costs and delays of an environmental assessment.
“It codifies the categorical exclusion under the Bureau, because in the case of these hydro projects, the canals where they would be built on have already gone through an EA,” explained Josh Green, a press secretary for Tipton’s Washington D.C. office. “It makes no sense to go through the whole process again.”
There are 28 potential sites for small hydropower plants on BOR systems in Colorado and 373 nationwide..
Mike Preston, general manager for the Dolores Water Conservancy District, said the bill is a welcome change for the district, which has sites potentially suitable for small hydropower plants on its canals.
“Small hydropower on the Dolores Project is an opportunity to produce and sell clean energy that does not affect water supply,” he said.
“There are seven or eight elevation drops on our canals where there is an opportunity for hydropower, and so now we will be able to better pursue those plans.”
The most likely site for a new hydro power plan is on the Towaoc-Highline canal, and the project that is being negotiated with the Ute Mountain Ute tribe.
The T-H canal delivers irrigation water to farms on the Ute Mountain Reservation. At one point, a gravity-fed water pipe supplying canal the enters a massive energy-dissipation structure, or pressure reducer, to avoid causing damage to concrete canals, equipment and pump stations.
Instead of dissipating the energy, DWCD and the tribe hope to work out an agreement with the tribe to build a power plant and share the profits of selling the energy.
“It’s a good site,” Preston said. “You can feel the ground constantly rumbling where the de-pressurizing is going on. It is a good venture for both parties.”
Costs for the hydro unit would be in the $5 million range, and the District’s share would be financed if the project goes forward, Preston said.
The bill also makes the Bureau’s Power Resources Office the lead agency for small conduit hydropower activities on its property, taking it out of the permitting realm of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.
It also gives irrigation and districts with Bureau-built canals right of first refusal for hydropower privilege leases, which anyone can file on.
“It is commendable that Congressman Tipton was able to get something done in Congress,” Preston said. “This bill streamlines the process.”
The legislation was endorsed by the Family Farm Alliance, the National Water Resources Association, the Colorado River District, and the American Public Power Association, among others.
“There were no real objections, and it had bipartisan support. In the Senate, the vote was unanimous,” Green said.
The Congressional Budget Office has reported that HR 678 has no cost to taxpayers, and returns revenues to the treasury.
“By signing this bill into law, we have made headway in the effort to establish American energy independence and putting people back to work,” Tipton said.