Hydropower Advocates and Environmental Groups Reach Historic Agreement

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On Tuesday, October 13, the National Hydropower Association (NHA) announced its partnership with American Rivers, the World Wildlife Fund, and other environmental groups in a “Joint Statement of Collaboration on U.S. Hydropower: Climate Solution and Conservation Challenge.” The Joint Statement, which was facilitated over the last two and a half years through Stanford University’s Uncommon Dialogue process, is a collaborative effort to address climate change by encouraging “the renewable energy and storage benefits of hydropower and the environmental and economic benefits of healthy rivers.”

The Joint Statement recognizes hydropower’s value in decarbonizing the energy sector, including by providing storage resources and integrating variable solar and wind power into the electric grid.  At the same time, the Joint Statement acknowledges the importance of sustaining the biodiversity and ecosystem services of the country’s river system, and the need to address climate change, habitat loss, and other impacts to the nation’s waterways.  The parties to the Joint Statement focused on three primary opportunities: rehabilitating powered and non-powered dams to improve safety and mitigate environmental impacts; retrofit powered dams and increase generation at non-powered dams to increase generation, including by developing more pumped storage resources; and removing dams that are environmental or safety risks or that no longer benefit society.  The Joint Statement refers to these opportunities as the “three Rs”: rehabilitate, retrofit, and remove.

To this end, the parties to the Joint Statement identified several areas for joint collaboration, including:

  • Accelerate development of hydropower technologies to improve generation efficiency, environmental performance, and solar and wind integration;
  • Advocate for improved dam safety in the U.S.;
  • Increase basin-scale decision-making and access to river-related data;
  • Improve the measurement, valuation of and compensation for hydropower flexibility and reliability services and support for environmental performance;
  • Advance effective river restoration through improved off-site mitigation;
  • Improve federal hydropower licensing, relicensing, and license surrender processes; and
  • Advocate for additional funding for U.S. dam rehabilitation, retrofits, and removals.

In a New York Times article discussing the Joint Statement, Bob Irwin, the President of American Rivers, stated that “[t]he climate crisis has become a lot more acute and we recognize that we need to generate carbon-free energy whenever and wherever we can . . . and we do see that hydropower has a role to play there.”  Malcom Woolf, president of the National Hydropower Association, also expressed support for the Joint Statement and provided that “[w]e’re now willing to talk about removing uneconomic dams, and environmentalists are no longer talking about all hydropower being bad.”

The same article described a 2016 Department of Energy (DOE) study which indicated that the United States could increase its hydropower capacity by 50 percent without building any large new dams, and Jose Zayas, a former DOE official, added that “[t]here have been some big technological advances that now let us produce more energy in a much more sustainable way.”

Going forward, signatories to the Joint Statement will develop a plan to guide their joint efforts to address the areas of collaboration discussed above and draft an Action Plan, which will address priorities, decision-making needs, and the roles and responsibilities of individual organizations to achieve progress in the “three Rs” outlined above.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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