It’s all a reminder that hydropower, however fresh it sounds, can generate political heat as well as occasional cooperation.
In June, for instance, a sharply divided House passed a bill by Rep. Jeff Denham, R-Calif., that would permit California’s Merced Irrigation District to raise the spillways on the district’s New Exchequer Dam. That would increase power production and water storage, but it also would temporarily inundate part of a protected Wild and Scenic River. The Obama administration opposes the Denham bill, which faces an uncertain future in the Senate.
Hydropower rhetoric, too, can get heavy. At a hydropower hearing last year, Rep. Tom McClintock, R-Calif., the chairman of the House Water and Power Subcommittee, denounced American Rivers, which advocates for protecting river habitat nationwide, as an “extremist organization.”
Last year, on a closely divided vote, McClintock won House approval for an amendment blocking the removal of what he called “four perfectly good hydroelectric dams” in the Klamath River Basin of Oregon and Northern California. Congress later dropped the amendment; but, as with the new Hasting bill, a point had been made about an important part of the nation’s energy mix.
In a more collaborative vein, Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., won unanimous House support in July for a bipartisan bill that streamlines licensing for small hydropower projects. The legislation would exempt from federal licensing requirements the nation’s 1,100-plus hydro projects that aren’t operated by the federal government and that generate less than 10 megawatts of electricity; the current exemption is limited to projects that generate less than 5 megawatts.