A rugged, whitewater river flowing northward through deep canyons, the New River is among the oldest rivers on the continent. New River Gorge National River in West Virginia encompasses over 70,000 acres of land along the New River, is rich in cultural and natural history, and offers an abundance of scenic and recreational opportunities.
Big Southern Butte is one of two domes rising from a sea of basalt near the center of the eastern Snake River Plain in Idaho. The butte is one of the largest volcanic domes in the world, but at 300,000 years old it is also one of the youngest. Hikers who trek to the 7,550-foot high summit are rewarded with spectacular panoramic views. Photo by Devin Englestead, BLM Upper Snake Wildlife Biologist.
First light at Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge in New Mexico. Established in November 22, 1939, the refuge has provided a critical stopover and wintering spot for thousands of sandhill cranes, geese and other waterfowl for 75 years. Bosque del Apache's sandhill crane population has multiplied from 18 birds in the 1840s to more than 20,000 birds today. Photo by Kim Hang Dessoliers (www.sharetheexperience.org).
Chairman McClintock and members of the Subcommittee, I am Bob Quint, Chief of Staff at the Bureau of Reclamation (Reclamation). I am pleased to provide the views of the Department of the Interior (Department) on HR 795, the Small-Scale Hydropower Enhancement Act of 2011. This legislation would amend the Federal Power Act (FPA, 16 USC 792 et seq) to exempt small projects under 1.5 megawatts (MW) from licensing requirements, and direct the Department to prepare a new report evaluating potential projects of less than one megawatt. The Department has concerns with HR 795, as described below. Reclamation understands that the licensing exemption contemplated in Section 3 of HR 795 is meant to codify opportunities for development of small projects whose potential environmental impact is greatly reduced due to their placement in any existing tunnel, canal, pipeline, aqueduct, flume, ditch, or similar manmade water conveyance. The proposed legislation goes further than current laws or regulations in that it removes the licensing requirements for non-Federal conduit projects with capacities less than 1.5 MW.
In general, the Department's view is that environmental laws should continue to apply in the licensing exemption context, and note that our colleagues at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) may also have comments on Section 3. Section 3 of this Act will exempt certain projects on non-Federal conduits that are currently operating without a FERC license under the FPA from any licensing requirement, allowing them to continue to operate without analysis under the FPA or the requirements imposed by other environmental laws. The Administration is concerned about the impacts of this section and recommends revising this section to specify which laws this legislation is seeking to make inapplicable for the specified class of projects.
Where hydropower does have environmental impacts, particularly on fish species and their habitats, we work with our partner bureaus and agencies to evaluate and mitigate these impacts. Further, hydropower can be flexible and reliable when compared to other forms of generation. Reclamation has nearly 500 dams and dikes and 10,000 miles of canals and owns 58 hydropower plants, 53 of which are operated and maintained by Reclamation. On an annual basis, these plants produce an average of 40 million megawatt-hours (MWh) of electricity.
With respect to the study requirement in Section 4 of HR 795, Reclamation in 2010 revised its study completed pursuant to Section 1834 of the Energy Policy Act of 2005 (1834 Study) to do much of what HR 795 requires. The revised 1834 Study1 investigated the hydropower potential at the 530 Reclamation sites described in the original 2007 study2, regardless of size. Of the 530 original sites, 351 were under one megawatt in capacity. In the revised 1834 Study, 133 of these had hydropower potential and 22 of these were determined to be feasible for further development investigation. This study was preliminary in nature. More analysis would need to be done by entities interested in expanding hydropower generation at Federal facilities. Reclamation will continue to review and assess projects that provide a high economic return for the nation, are energy efficient, and can be accomplished without harming or impairing fish and wildlife, the environment, or recreational opportunities. In December of this year, as referenced in the 2010 Hydropower Memorandum of Understanding (MOU)3, Reclamation will complete a second phase that will investigate hydropower development on constructed Reclamation waterways such as canals, conduits, and drops.
Reclamation is on track to complete this additional report, which will be consistent with the Reclamation-specific deliverables envisioned in Section 4 of HR 795 by year's end. HR 795 would direct the Secretary to work with the other agencies involved in the original 1834 Study to also complete similar assessments of their sites listed in the 2007 report. The study already underway is similar to and would likely satisfy the requirement for a report under HR 795. Reclamation has procedures in place through the lease of power privilege (LOPP) process for the sites where Reclamation has the authority to develop hydropower. We are currently reviewing our LOPP policies and processes to look for ways to expedite and improve the process, especially for conduits and canals. We expect to have that review completed by November of this year.
We are happy to discuss these initiatives in greater detail with the Subcommittee. This concludes my written statement. I am pleased to answer any questions the Subcommittee may have.