By James Perkins
Today’s microhydro technology can provide the lowest-cost per kilowatt-hour of any renewable source and can be responsibly installed in an environmentally-sustainable manner. Vermont has thousands of viable sites for microhydro systems that can contribute to meeting the State’s renewable energy goals with small-scale, distributed generation.
Unfortunately, anachronistic regulation imposes insurmountable barriers for farms, businesses, towns and citizens wishing to adopt microhydro technology. This includes numerous State and Federal governmental entities with a myriad of regulations. This situation is understandable given that small-scale renewables have only become more widely adopted within the past decade and that regulation reform usually lags reality.
As I write this, I have just learned that on February 13th, the U.S. House of Representatives unanimously passed the “Hydropower Regulatory Efficiency Act of 2013” also known as HR267. Not many bills have gained this level of broad bipartisan support recently!
HR267 is a no-cost, no-downside measure that alleviates the costly and protracted Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (“FERC”) burden for certain types of non-traditional hydropower generation projects. This includes specialized “conduit” projects and other mostly-Western-States projects on Federal lands and irrigation districts. HR267 is supported by industry, environmental stakeholders, citizens and, obviously, the US House of Representatives.
However, as currently written, HR267 does nothing to enable microhydro… but it easily could!
Today, in order to connect any size hydropower generator – even microhydro – to the grid for net metering, it is sobering to find that a Federal (FERC) proceeding is required. If a Federal proceeding were required to connect rooftop solar PV panels to the grid then there would be very few grid-tied solar PV arrays!
We are working with the renewable energy/environmental stakeholder communities and others to remove the counterproductive regulatory barrier to microhydro. The Senate will undoubtedly take up action on the House’s bill this year. Achieving a supportive policy at the Federal level will be a positive influence in modernizing the regulatory approach taken by the States to better support adoption of small-scale renewable energy technologies.
Using the approach for solar PV arrays, wind turbines and other renewable sources, it would be relatively simple to extend appropriate oversight to microhydro.
We anticipate US Senate action on this issue sometime this year, so please ask your Senator to “Support Microhydro” in the Senate.
At the State level, we are working with others toward support for microhydro in the Vermont Legislature, so be sure to voice your support to your legislators. Nearby states next!
More About Microhydro
Microhydro electrical power (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Microhydro) is a globally-utilized technology that is small-scale, distributed-source, environmentally-sustainable, economically-viable, and fits well with Vermont’s goal of becoming renewable energy independent.
Hydropower has been regulated by the Federal government since the Federal Power Act of 1935, from which the FERC has evolved. FERC jurisdiction over industrial-scale hydroelectric power plants originated with the unprecedented hydroelectric power plant civil projects in the 20th Century such as the Hoover Dam, TVA and the Colombia River projects. In the 1960s, public sentiment about large hydroelectric dams and projects began turning negative owing to the huge ecological and societal impacts of large-scale, conventional hydroelectric power plants. In time, most people came to support strict regulation of high-impact hydroelectric power development.
Technological advances and the rising cost of energy have resulted in the economic viability of small-scale, distributed, environmentally-sustainable microhydro technology.
However, as attempts to deploy microhydro emerge, they collide with an immovable object; application of legacy hydroelectric power plant development regulations to microhydro – simply because microhydro includes the word “hydro”. The result is an insurmountable economic barrier for adopting microhydro in the United States… the cost of a FERC proceeding far exceeds the installed cost of a microhydro system! Today, achieving energy independence and support for small-scale distributed energy generation of renewables enjoys broad public support and microhydro can and should be allowed to contribute to the goal.
James Perkins is co-founder of Little Green Hydro, maker of the EcoHydro System (TM). Involved with technology for over thirty years, James has started and grown seven successful entrepreneurial companies and lives in a renewables-powered home that he and his son built in Corinth, Vermont.