Deregulating hydropower could help U.S. move to a cleaner, cheaper energy future


    WASHINGTON (Aug. 24, 2017) – The current regulatory regime to license hydroelectric generation imposes a host of uncertainties and delays, with excessive environmental rules that, ironically, serve to increase air pollution, according to a new R Street Institute policy study by Electricity Policy Manager Devin Hartman and Associate Fellow Tom Russo.

    The current rules rely on a one-size-fits-all process that overscrutinizes low-impact projects and requires inefficient reviews for most others, even those where stakeholders already have resolved their disputes, the authors write. Congress and the Trump administration should work to address the duplicative processes, poor dispute resolution and lack of schedule discipline, especially from agencies that attempt to implement the Endangered Species Act or that delegate water-quality permitting under Section 401 of the Clean Water Act, they conclude.

    “Despite common arguments to the contrary, hydropower is far from ‘tapped out,’ as evidenced by a recent U.S. Energy Department study that found the potential for hydropower to grow nearly 50 percent beyond its current capacity,” Hartman and Russo write. “Reforms to permitting and regulatory processes—the most commonly cited challenges associated with hydropower development—may unleash much of this potential.”

    Among the specific reforms the authors recommend are to make the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission the sole federal decisionmaking authority; to introduce regulatory transparency requirements and adjust agency funding terms or performance requirements to expedite reviews; to study privatization of federally owned dams; to exclude very small projects from licensing and exemption requirements; and to eliminate redundant interagency processes by requiring agencies to cooperate with one another.

    “The current statutes affecting hydropower regulation embody the ‘precautionary principle,’ where innovators seek the blessing of public officials before developing and deploying new technologies,” the authors write. “Reforms that move toward ‘permissionless innovation’ would encourage technological progress, with benefits both to the economy and the environment.”

    Source : R Street