Senators and hydropower trade group representatives on Jan. 11 said FERC should have a stronger role in licensing hydroelectric development, including the authority to set and enforce process deadlines.

"This idea that it takes longer to permit a hydro project than a nuclear plant is absolutely preposterous," Sen. Angus King (I-Maine) said at a Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing on hydropower development.

Scott Corwin, head of the Northwest Public Power Association, testified in favor of legislation to make FERC the lead federal agency on licensing, with authority to set process timelines and require other federal agencies to use existing studies on relevant permitting issues.

Corwin noted that Okanogan County PUD of Washington state in 2018 abandoned a plan to re-energize the Enloe Dam five years after the project was licensed. Between 2007 and 2018, the estimated cost of reenergizing the dam rose from $31 million to more than $87 million, he said. In his written testimony, Corwin said "project sponsors cannot afford to continue to pursue these projects at exorbitant cost on an unpredictable timeline."

Malcolm Woolf, CEO of the National Hydropower Association, said there is "no process discipline" among federal agencies in licensing proceedings.

"You can't play football when everyone is a quarterback," Woolf said. He called for a two-year limit on licensing proceedings for adding generation to nonpowered dams and for off-river pumped-storage projects.

In written testimony, Woolf warned that baseload hydropower generation is "at risk," with about 30 percent of FERC licenses scheduled to expire by 2030. "Relicensing takes, on average, 7.6 years to complete, with relicensing for many facilities lasting over a decade," he testified. He added that a recent industry survey found that 36.4 percent of hydropower asset owners are "actively considering" decommissioning.

Woolf said developing hydropower at nonpowered dams could provide significant carbon-free capacity. He pointed to a 2016 Department of Energy study that estimated the U.S. could boost hydropower generating and storage capacity from 101 GW to more than 150 GW by 2050.

Of the 90,000 dams in the U.S., only about 2,500 have power generation facilities, Jennifer Garson, acting director of DOE's Water Power Technologies Office, testified.

Woolf said a coalition of industry, environmental and dam-safety advocates plan in February to propose a package of Federal Power Act reforms aimed at expediting licensing of hydropower development at nonpowered dams and closed-loop pumped-storage facilities and linking license conditions to project impacts.

Other steps for boosting hydropower witnesses backed included:

  • Incentives: Corwin and Woolf praised legislation, S. 2306, that would authorize a 30-percent investment tax credit for hydropower dam upgrades for safety, environmental improvements and grid resilience. The measure, introduced by Sens. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), also includes a direct-pay option that would make publicly owned utilities that don't pay federal income taxes eligible for the credit. Corwin noted that 30 percent of electric utilities are consumer-owned.
  • Ancillary services: Corwin called for market mechanisms to credit hydropower's nongeneration attributes. Corwin noted that hydropower provides services such as load following, frequency response, reactive power, voltage support and spinning reserves.

In other testimony, Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Camille Calimlim Touton said hydropower production at Hoover and Glen Canyon dams is likely to fall over the next five years because of persistent drought.

In her written testimony, Touton said projections for Hoover Dam indicate there is "a relatively high probability of a 0.5 percent to 2.5 percent reduction in hydropower generation from year to year over the next five years." She noted that the bureau and Hoover's contractors installed the fifth of 17 generating turbines with "wide-head turbines, which operate more efficiently at lower lake levels."

At Glen Canyon, Touton said generation has decreased 20 percent since 2000. She added that recent forecasts "show the possibility of Lake Powell dropping below a designated target elevation of 3,525 feet" as early as next month, a level "just 35 feet above the minimum power production pool elevation of 3,490 feet."

DOE Rescinds 2020 Appliance Rules

The Department of Energy on Jan. 12 rescinded 2020 rules that set separate product classes for short-cycle dishwashers, clothes washers and dryers.

DOE said the 2020 rules fell short of following Energy Policy and Conservation Act requirements, including "analyzing whether the amended standards are designed to achieve the maximum improvement in energy efficiency that is technologically feasible and economically justified."

Rescinding the rules was supported by the California Energy Commission, California's three large investor-owned utilities, the Northwest Power and Conservation Council and environmental organizations. Fourteen states sued in the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to block the rules.

In a filing with DOE in April, the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers said the clothes washer and dryer rule was not necessary because many products that meet current efficiency standards already offer consumers the option of using shorter cycles.

When establishing the separate classes, DOE did not set energy and water conservation standards, which efficiency advocates said could have resulted in models with no limits on energy and water consumption.

"Fortunately, no major manufacturer created a product exploiting the loophole," the Appliance Standards Awareness Project said in a statement.

The 2020 dishwashers rule created a class for appliances with cycles of 60 minutes or less. The rule for clothes washers and dryers established separate classes for front-loaders with 45-minute or shorter cycles, top-loaders with cycles of 30 minutes or less, and dryers with 30-minute cycles or less.

DOE's then-deputy secretary, Mark Menezes, in 2020 said the separate classes would give consumers more choices.

Humboldt Wind Area Environmental Study Released

The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management on Jan. 11 released a draft environmental assessment for the 206-square-mile Humboldt Wind Energy Area 20 miles off the Northern California coast.

The EA examined issuing up to three commercial leases in the area, which BOEM said could support up to 1.6 GW of offshore wind capacity. The agency designated the wind area in July 2021.

Issuance of leases would give leaseholders exclusive rights to submit site-assessment and construction and operating plans for wind development. The environmental impacts of proposed projects would require a separate analysis, the agency noted.

Water depths in the leasing area range from 500 meters to 1,100 meters, which would necessitate use of floating technology. A 2020 California Energy Commission report noted potential barriers to deep-water wind development, including lack of technological maturity and high costs.

The EA said the impacts of site assessment on commercial fisheries, marine mammals, sea turtles, and coastal and marine birds are likely to be small.

BOEM opened a 30-day public comment period on the draft EA and scheduled two virtual public meetings for Jan. 25 and 26.

Meanwhile, the Interior Department on Jan. 12 said BOEM will hold a wind lease auction Feb. 23 for more than 480,000 acres in the New York Bight off New York and New Jersey.

Six lease areas that could result in up to 7 GW of offshore wind capacity will be available for developers to submit bids, Interior said.

The Biden administration has set a target of developing 30 GW of offshore wind by 2030.

BLM Approves Oberon Solar Project

The Bureau of Land Management on Jan. 13 approved the 500 MW Oberon solar photovoltaic project to be built on federal lands near Desert Center in California’s Riverside County.

The project would include 200 MW of battery storage.

The project developer is IP Oberon, a subsidiary of Intersect Power.

BLM said the project was proposed for a site rated as suitable for renewable energy development in the agency’s Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan.

Agencies Plan to Speed Permitting on Federal Lands

The Biden administration announced plans on Jan. 12 to speed permitting of clean energy projects on federal lands.

The Interior, Energy, Defense and Agriculture departments, along with the Environmental Protection Agency, signed an agreement to coordinate environmental reviews and permitting of wind, solar and geothermal projects.

"This collaboration will expedite decision-making by establishing interagency coordination teams with qualified staff to facilitate environmental reviews and other federal reviews," the White House said in a statement.

The Energy Act of 2020 directs federal agencies to permit 25 GW of wind, solar and geothermal capacity on federal lands by 2025.

DOE Rolls Out Grid Upgrade Initiative

The Department of Energy on Jan. 12 rolled out an initiative to spur the development of high-capacity transmission lines, in part using funds from the infrastructure legislation that President Joe Biden signed into law Nov. 15.

DOE said the initiative includes carrying out a transmission needs study and deploying federal financing, including the infrastructure legislation's $2.5 billion transmission revolving loan fund; a $3 billion expansion of a smart-grid matching grants program; more than $10 billion in grants for state, tribal and utility projects to beef up grid resilience; and "existing tools," including the Western Area Power Administration's $3.25 billion revolving loan program and DOE's loan-guarantee program.

DOE said it is working with the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and National Renewable Energy Laboratory to study "viable future grid realization pathways to a large-scale transmission buildout that would accomplish clean-energy goals."

A DOE notice said 70 percent of the grid's lines and transformers are over 25 years old, adding that transmission upgrades would help harden the grid against physical and cyberattack and enable faster restoration of power following supply disruptions.

BLM Proposes Chaco Canyon Withdrawal

The Bureau of Land Management on Jan. 5 formally proposed a two-year withdrawal of about 351,000 acres around Chaco Culture National Historical Park from new oil and gas leasing.

BLM's action formalized the Biden administration's Nov. 15 announcement of plans to protect federal lands within a 10-mile radius of the park. Congress in 2020 mandated a one-year moratorium on new leasing within the 10-mile radius.

BLM opened a 90-day public comment period on the proposal. Three public meetings also were scheduled, two on Feb. 23 at San Juan College in Farmington, N.M., and a webinar on Feb. 24.

In addition, BLM said the Bureau of Indian Affairs will "explore ways the Interior Department can manage existing energy development, honor sensitive areas important to tribes and communities, and build collaborative management frameworks toward a sustainable economic future for the region."

The proposed withdrawal has divided tribes in the region. The Greater Chaco Coalition, including groups representing Navajo allotment holders and Pueblo tribes, supports the proposal. The Navajo Nation, however, has criticized withdrawing acreage within a 10-mile radius, calling instead for a 5-mile no-leasing buffer around the park.

The Western Energy Alliance, an oil and gas producers trade group, also opposes the withdrawal.

The park protects artifacts and cultural sites dating back more than 1,000 years. Former President Theodore Roosevelt established Chaco Culture as a national monument in 1907, and Congress redesignated it a national historical park in 1980.

LIHEAP Fund Allocations Announced

The White House on Jan. 7 announced state-by-state allocations of Low-Income Home Energy Assistance funding for fiscal year 2022.

In addition, the White House said seven additional utilities, including Pacific Gas & Electric, have agreed to the White House's call to avoid shut-offs and expedite delivery of bill assistance. In November, seven utilities, including NorthWestern Energy and Portland General Electric, agreed to do so.

Congress appropriated $4.5 billion for LIHEAP as part of the $1.9 trillion pandemic relief legislation Biden signed into law in March 2021, bringing to $8 billion the total LIHEAP funding approved in 2021, the White House said.

LIHEAP funding totals for the October 2021 to September 2022 period include Arizona, $49.8 million; California, $382.8 million; Colorado, $125.6 million; Idaho, $45.6 million; Montana, $46.4 million; Nevada, $24.5 million; New Mexico, $41.3 million; Oregon, $87.7 million; Utah, $56.3 million; Washington, $143.6 million, and Wyoming, $21.8 million.

Oklo Vows to Press Ahead

Oklo plans to continue developing its proposed microreactor at the Idaho National Laboratory, following the Nuclear Regulatory Commission's Jan. 6 denial of a construction and operating license for the 1.5 MW facility.

"We are eager to continue moving forward on not just this project with the NRC, but also other projects we are already engaged on with the NRC," the company said in a statement.

The commission, which said Oklo's application lacked sufficient information on potential accidents and safety systems, said the company was free to reapply for a license with the information the commission requested.

"Our combined license application was the first ever accepted for an advanced plant, so there are many new things for all to learn from and work through to support a successful review, and it provides a foundation from which we can supply additional information and continue work with the NRC," Oklo said.

The plant would use high-assay, low-enriched uranium fuel and rely on heat pipes rather than water to move heat from the reactor core to a power generation system.

FWS Nomination Advances

The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee on Jan. 12 reported out Biden's nomination of Martha Williams to head the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Williams, currently the principal deputy director of FWS, directed Montana's Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks from 2017 to 2020.

EPA Reviews Coal Ash Deadline Extension Requests

The Environmental Protection Agency on Jan. 11 said it is evaluating power plant applications for extended deadlines to stop disposing of coal ash at unlined impoundments and to use alternative impoundment liners.

PacifiCorp's Jim Bridger plant in Wyoming was one of 35 that sought an extension beyond the April 11 deadline by which unlined impoundments must stop receiving coal ash and either begin closing or retrofitting. Under a 2020 EPA rule, plants can ask for a deadline extension to as late as Oct. 15, 2023.

The rule required most of about 500 unlined coal ash impoundments across the U.S. to stop receiving waste and begin closure by April 11.

"With this announcement, EPA will begin the process of closing unlined coal ash ponds to prevent contamination from seeping into groundwater," Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.), chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said. "It also lays the foundation for further regulatory action and puts polluters on notice."

EPA has proposed denying three extension applications for plants in Illinois, Indiana and Iowa and conditionally approving one for a Kentucky plant. The agency determined that four other applications were incomplete. Utilities withdrew three of the applications.

In addition, EPA received 24 applications seeking extensions to 2023 for impoundments 40 acres or smaller or to 2028 for larger impoundments serving plants that plan to permanently shut down boilers or already have done so. Among the 24 are Arizona Public Service's Cholla plant, the Intermountain Power Project in Utah, and PacifiCorp's Naughton plant in Wyoming.

Naughton is the location of TerraPower's proposed Natrium nuclear plant, a sodium-cooled fast reactor with a molten-salt energy storage system.

EPA determined that one of the 24 plants, the Greenidge facility in New York, was ineligible for an extension.

Powell Says Climate 'Stress Tests' Likely

Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell on Jan. 11 said climate "stress tests" on major banks are likely to be a "key tool" in reducing risks to the U.S. financial system.

Powell said assessing banks' climate-related risks would fall within the Fed's supervisory responsibilities, in testimony at his confirmation hearing before the Senate Banking Committee. Biden nominated Powell for a second four-year term as Fed chairman.

In response to questions from Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), the panel's chairman, Powell said climate stress tests are likely to be an "important priority" at the Fed.

In an exchange with Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.), Powell cautioned that "the broader answer to climate change has to come from legislators and the private sector."

"We've got to stick to our knitting if we want to remain independent," he replied to questions from Cramer, who raised concerns about what he called "mission creep" at the Fed.

"Climate is appropriate for us as an issue to the extent that it fits within our existing mandates. I think it does in the sense that it's another risk that banks are going to run," Powell added.

In his opening statement for the hearing, Sen. Patrick Toomey (R-Penn.) characterized Fed actions on climate change as "politicization." Toomey, the committee's ranking Republican, said the Fed "does not have a mandate to advance politically charged causes that are irrelevant to its mandate, like addressing global warming or advancing so-called racial justice."

EIA: Solar Nearly Half of New Capacity in 2022

Solar will account for 46 percent of new utility-scale capacity this year, the Energy Information Administration reported Jan. 10.

Of the 46.1 GW of projected new capacity this year, gas will be the runner-up at 21 percent, followed by wind at 17 percent, the EIA said.

Texas will lead the states in projected new solar generation at 6.1 GW, followed by California at 4 GW, the EIA estimated.

In addition, the agency said battery storage would make up 11 percent of new capacity this year, and two new reactors at the Vogtle plant in Georgia would boost nuclear's share of new capacity to 5 percent.

U.S. GHG Emissions Up 6.2 Percent in 2021

U.S. greenhouse gas emissions increased 6.2 percent last year from the 2020 level, outpacing year-over-year economic growth of 5.7 percent, the Rhodium Group said in a report released Jan. 10.

Rhodium pointed to "a jump in coal-fired power generation" of 17 percent over 2020, as well as a rebound in road transportation, for the overall GHG emissions increase.

"As a result, progress in reducing U.S. GHG emissions was reversed in 2021, moving from 22.2 percent below 2005 levels in 2020 to only 17.4 percent [below] in 2021, putting the U.S. even further off track from achieving its 2025 and 2030 climate targets," Rhodium said.

The Biden administration has set a target of cutting U.S. GHG emissions 50 to 52 percent below 2005 levels by 2030.

The uptick in coal-fired generation was the first increase since 2014, according to EIA figures, Rhodium said.

"Coal's rebound was driven largely by a runup in natural gas prices, with Henry Hub spot prices averaging $4.93 per million Btu in 2021, or more than double their 2020 rate," the group said.

Natural gas prices surged as producers cut output in response to the pandemic-related oil price collapse in 2020, Rhodium said.

Gas-fired generation fell in 2021, but renewable generation was up 4 percent, hitting 20 percent of total generation for the first time, Rhodium said.

The International Energy Agency on Dec. 17 said that economic recovery drove up demand for coal-fired power to a new record worldwide in 2021. After a decrease during the previous two years, IEA estimated that coal-fired generation increased 9 percent last year, to a record high of 10.35 million GWh. In addition, IEA estimated that coal consumption for industrial uses, such as steel and cement production, rose 6 percent last year, taking nonpower coal demand above records reached in 2013 and 2014.

"Without strong and immediate actions by governments to tackle coal emissions—in a way that is fair, affordable and secure for those affected—we will have little chance, if any at all, of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees [Celsius]" above preindustrial levels, IEA Executive Director Fatih Birol said.

IEA said its forecasts showed 2021 coal use growing by 9 percent in China and 12 percent in India.

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