The Energy and Interior departments and the Army Corps of Engineers have agreed to create a new strategy for promoting hydropower development while reducing environmental impacts and streamlining regulations. But, the agencies caution, do not expect a proliferation of new dams.
"This is not ushering in a 21st century new dam era," Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said. "This is taking a look at existing facilities and low-impact hydro. This is an examination of what we can do with hydropower that does not necessitate the building of new dams."
Under a new memorandum of understanding, the administration will evaluate new hydropower technologies and their potential impact on U.S. renewable energy supplies. Federal agencies will examine the potential of installing hydrokinetic turbines in major rivers, turbines in water pipelines beneath streets, highly efficient turbines to replace those in existing dams and turbines on existing turbineless dams.A detailed assessment will provide a framework that will provide confidence to private investment:
Estimates vary on the amount of power untapped hydro sources might yield, but Energy Secretary Steven Chu estimated it could range between 16,000 and 25,000 megawatts.
The MOU directs the agencies to formulate a resource assessment of current Army Corps and Bureau of Reclamation facilities as well as identify ways to upgrade and modernize those facilities and install sustainable hydropower technologies at new sites.
The agencies will also coordinate research and development on advanced hydropower technologies and quantify the hydropower potential at federal facilities.
This is good, but private investment, especially in this financial climate, will not be enough. The federal government also needs to find ways to accelerate the technology to harness the enormous hydropower potential. Large sums are going to solar and nuclear; a similar commitment is needed for hydro:
"The concept of incentives is going to be critical moving forward. They need to align within the licensing and permitting process," said Linda Church Ciocci, executive director of the National Hydropower Association. "We need to take a hard look at ... what will make all this work in the end."
Update: Text of the MOU.