Senate approves four bills to advance Alaska hydropower projects, address bureaucracy

Published on July 03, 2018 by Aaron Martin

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The U.S. Senate approved four bills last week that aim to address licensing and regulatory issues that can hinder the development of hydropower and would advance several hydropower projects in Alaska.

Introduced by U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), S. 724 would give the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) authority to extend construction start times for licensed hydropower projects for up to 10 years congressional action. The current window is two years.

Passage of the bill drew praise from the National Hydropower Association (NHA). Linda Church Ciocci, executive director of the NHA, said FERC’s current two-year extension window makes it difficult to advance hydropower projects.

“It’s well known that hydropower projects can face a variety of obstacles that push back construction timelines, including delays in post-licensing construction approvals, refinements in final project design, continuing negotiations on power purchase agreements and securing financing,” Church Ciocci said. “S.724 would alleviate the need for individual project developers to get these congressionally-approved extensions, which requires projects to expend considerable additional time, money and effort on individual congressional legislation.”

Meanwhile, the Senate also approved three bills that would advance hydropower projects in Alaska: S. 215, H.R. 219, and H.R. 220. S. 215 would stay a hydroelectric license for the Mahoney Lake hydroelectric project near Ketchikan, enabling Southeast Power Association (SEPA) to factor the project into future energy needs. H.R. 219 would address a survey error that has withheld 25.8 acres of land near the Swan Lake dam reservoir from SEPA, and H.R. 220 would allow for the expansion of an existing hydropower project on Lake Terror.

“Alaska has unparalleled potential in hydropower, and that presents a great opportunity for communities across our state,” Murkowski, chairwoman of the U.S. Energy and Natural Resources Committee, said. “The passage of these bills will help cut costs, reduce delays and expand existing projects to ensure that more Alaskans can benefit from this clean, reliable, and affordable resource.”