ENERGY POLICY

Senate panel could vote on hydropower, efficiency measures soon

A trio of hydropower bills and a measure on energy efficiency standards may be some of the first legislation the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee takes up this year.

Chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) said earlier this week that he is planning to hold a legislative markup before the Senate breaks for its spring recess in two weeks and another before the Memorial Day recess in May. A Democratic aide added yesterday that the hydropower and energy efficiency legislation could be among the measures considered at the first markup later this month.

Bingaman has indicated he wants to move legislation that can gain bipartisan support on the committee. And at this point, he is not looking to advance broad, comprehensive bills.

"We're anxious to find solutions to energy problems," Bingaman said earlier this week at an event in Washington, D.C., hosted by Politico. "I think we'll have good support for practical solutions, maybe not on everything but a lot of things."

The hydropower and energy efficiency measures enjoy bipartisan backing on the committee. One of the hydropower measures (S. 629) -- a bill from ranking member Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) that would spur development of hydropower projects -- is co-sponsored by Bingaman and fellow committee members Sens. Jim Risch (R-Idaho), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.).

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"My impression is ... we're talking about very low-cost power generation," Bingaman said yesterday after hearing testimony on that measure along with another hydropower bill (S. 630) from Murkowski and a measure on the energy and water provisions of the broad energy bill (S. 1462) that the committee approved last Congress.

The energy efficiency measure (S. 398) also enjoys bipartisan support. The bill -- which would improve or create energy efficiency standards for consumer products like furnaces, air conditioners, heat pumps, refrigerators, freezers, clothes washers and dryers, dishwashers, outdoor lighting, pool heaters, drinking water dispensers and commercial food cabinets -- is co-sponsored by Bingaman and Murkowski.

"We've got bipartisan legislation that we think can get out of committee on a bipartisan basis," Bingaman said earlier this week.

Hydropower report

After yesterday's hydropower hearing, the Interior Department released a new internal report that shows the agency could generate up to 1 million megawatt-hours of electricity each year by adding hydropower capacity to some of its existing structures, like dams, canals and divergent structures.

The study surveyed 532 of the Bureau of Reclamation's facilities and tagged 70 as ripe for hydropower improvements.

"Adding hydropower capability at existing Reclamation facilities is a cost-effective and environmentally sustainable way to build our clean energy economy," said Assistant Secretary for Water and Science Anne Castle. "We can increase our renewable hydropower output without building new dams."

The 70 sites are located in 14 states in the western United States: Colorado, Utah, Montana, Texas, Arizona, California, Idaho, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, South Dakota, Washington and Wyoming.

Click here to read the report.

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