Hydropower is often thought to require massive dams and complex infrastructures to process millions of gallons of water to power entire cities. Small streams and irrigation canals are rarely considered resources to generate hydropower. In reality, the future of hydropower lies in these nontraditional sources.
Hydropower, the original green energy, remains the largest source of non-carbon emitting energy in the world. It provides low-cost electricity, reduces harmful carbon emissions, and accounts for 67 percent of America's total renewable electricity generation.
Dams and reservoirs have provided affordable and reliable energy for generations of Nebraskans. The ability to harness the power of moving water has paid tremendous dividends for Nebraska's economy. While it is vital to continue making the most of our existing hydropower infrastructure, promoting new efforts designed to produce hydropower from smaller sources is important.
The thousands of miles of irrigation canals, pipes, and ditches across the Third District create tremendous opportunity for new hydropower generation. Many irrigators want to use small projects to reduce electricity costs and generate much-needed revenue to repair aging infrastructure. Furthermore, increased revenues from the sale of this renewable energy could result in lower irrigation costs to farmers. Finally, irrigation water delivery would continue while utilizing flows for clean, emissions-free energy production.
In February, I reintroduced the bipartisan Small Scale Hydropower Enhancement Act (H.R. 795) to encourage the next generation of hydropower innovation. Recently, H.R. 795 had its first hearing in the House Committee on Natural Resources Water and Power Subcommittee.
Unfortunately, small scale hydropower faces unnecessary, overbearing regulations from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). FERC's current requirements, most of which are unnecessary or outdated, stifle innovation in the small scale hydropower field by making projects financially prohibitive.
One-size-fits-all rules limit opportunity for small projects to expand our sources of clean, renewable energy while also hindering entrepreneurship and economic development across the nation. H.R. 795 explicitly exempts conduit hydropower projects generating less than one and a half megawatts, which is enough power to supply energy for more than 1,000 homes, from FERC's permitting rules. Such hydropower produced in man-made water delivery systems does not consume or disrupt water deliveries and has no environmental effect on temperature or aquatic life. This commonsense approach would eliminate bureaucratic hurdles faced by small scale ventures to allow them to contribute to our nation's energy portfolio.
Hydropower, on both large and small scales, can and should play a critical role in our nation's clean, affordable, and reliable energy future. The Small Scale Hydropower Act, which is endorsed by the National Hydropower Association, Family Farm Alliance, and the National Water Resources Association, would help stimulate the economy of rural America, empower local irrigation districts to generate revenue and increase domestic energy production - all at no cost to taxpayers.
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