Hydropower on ag ditches being pushed in Washington
The Fence Post
Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Colo., for the past couple years has pushed for a bill that would allow hydropower development on irrigation ditches in Colorado and across the West. Joshua Green — press secretary for Tipton, whose 3rd Congressional District covers nearly all of southern and western Colorado — took time out of his schedule recently to discuss Tipton’s “Hydropower and Rural Jobs Act” and how the bill is moving along in Washington.
Below are portions of those conversations:
Q: First of all, what exactly is this bill aiming to do?
A: This would lift restrictions on hydropower development for irrigation districts, specifically on Bureau of Reclamation conduits, so they could use that water to generate electricity. The bill eliminates duplicative environmental analysis on these existing pipes, ditches, canals, etc., that have already received a full review under the National Environmental Policy Act. This bill asks that small-scale hydropower projects, five megawatts or less, can be put in place without having to go through further federal processes. The bill streamlines the federal regulatory process, and it reduces administrative costs for these ditch managers to install small hydropower projects.
Q: This is the second year Tipton has introduced the bill aimed at hydropower development on irrigation ditches. Why is this bill so important to him?
A: Costs are increasing to repair these aging water-supply systems, and making them more energy-efficient would save the ditch managers money. The electricity from these projects could also be sold to bring in money and help cover their expenses. The bill would also add clean electricity to the grid to power homes and communities. And this is a rural job creator; we would need people to build and then maintain these hydropower projects.
Q: What is the driving force behind this bill? Is hydropower development on irrigation canals something that Tipton’s constituents have been talking about for a while?
A: There’s absolutely an interest in Colorado and throughout the West. The Interior Department has identified at least 28 Bureau of Reclamation canal sites in Colorado, and 373 nationwide, that could be developed for hydropower purposes. These are small hydropower projects we’re talking about, and would cost relatively little to construct. However, with the way things are now, the federal permitting costs add up to be more than the construction itself, and that’s deterring people from going forward with these hydropower projects
Q: How are the discussions in Washington coming along?
A: Things are going very, very well. The bill passed the House 416-7 in April. Obviously we have the support, and have had it for a long time. Representative Tipton’s hydropower bill had passed the House last year, but we ran out of time to push it all the way through before the session was over. A companion bill from the Senate recently passed the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, so things are going well over there as well. Now, we’re just waiting to get all of this pushed through and see this become law.
Q: I read recently where there’s a similar hydropower bill in the House being pushed by Rep. Steve Daines of Montana. How are the two bills different?
A: Our bill amends the Reclamation Project Act of 1939, which authorized the vast majority of projects on Reclamation facilities. The Water Conservation and Utilization Act of 1939, on the other hand, authorized 11 Bureau of Reclamation facilities. Unlike the Reclamation Project Act of 1939, which our bill amends, a statute under the WCUA allows for only the federal government to develop hydropower on these 11 facilities. Daines’ bill seeks to address that statute in the WCUA and remove those hurdles, so private hydropower development in those facilities can move forward. ❖
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