National Hydropower Assoc.'s Ciocci discusses administration's new push for development

The Obama administration recently moved to expand the development of hydropower, a renewable energy source that provides the United States with about 7 percent of its electricity. How will the administration promote hydropower development? During today's OnPoint, Linda Church Ciocci, executive director of the National Hydropower Association, discusses the short-term growth potential for hydropower. She also explains hydropower's role in the congressional climate debate.


Monica Trauzzi: Welcome to the show. I'm Monica Trauzzi. Joining me today is Linda Church Ciocci, the executive director of the National Hydropower Association. Linda, thanks for coming on the show.

Linda Church Ciocci: Thanks for having me.

Monica Trauzzi: Linda, the Obama administration recently made a push to ramp up hydropower development. Hydropower has been somewhat overlooked in the past though. What is the administration promising to do?

Linda Church Ciocci: Well, I think what the exciting thing is is that the administration recognizes the very important role that hydropower has played up to now in energy policy and the more significant role it's going to play going forward to moving and transitioning to a clean energy economy. We already produce 7 percent of the U.S. electric generation. We're 67 percent of the nation's renewable energy, much larger, obviously, than wind or solar and we're posed for a great growth and opportunity, creating jobs and clean energy in the process. And I think that's one of the reasons why the administration is working so hard to roll out its own federal projects. The federal system actually owns half of our hydropower system in the United States and so it recently signed a historic MLU with the Department of Energy, Department of Interior, and the Corps of Engineers to really look at their individual facilities and find ways that they can build them out and work in partnership with private industry.

Monica Trauzzi: Hydropower, at this point, is responsible for about 7 percent of U.S. electricity generation. Why is it such a key component and, in the grand scheme of things, is that a big number, the 7 percent?

Linda Church Ciocci: Well, it's a large number in the sense that it's most of our renewable energy and as we move to a clean energy economy it's obviously going to play a very large role. But it's also very important, it's domestic, its capacity to grow, obviously plays an important role and I think the other thing is it has some unique electric benefits in terms of integrating variables to the grid, in supporting the grid and creating the kind of stability that we look for in the future.

Monica Trauzzi: What's the interplay between hydropower and other renewable technologies?

Linda Church Ciocci: Well, obviously, we work very closely with the other renewable technologies, but the important role, I think, is that we look to build out and we set such a huge, I think, ambitious goal for renewable energy in moving into the future, that it's really this whole full suite of renewables that's going to get us to meet that goal. And it's hydro's ability to integrate the wind and solar technologies into the grid system I think that's going to be so key. The most important aspect of that is pump storage. We have, right now, about 20,000 megawatts of pump storage in this country. It really is the largest utility scale form of energy storage that we have. We're looking to build another 30,000 megawatts of that in this country and it's all really geared toward helping to integrate the other renewables into the grid system.

Monica Trauzzi: And which areas of the country benefit the most from hydropower?

Linda Church Ciocci: Well, hydropower is all over the United States. Many people think that it's mostly a Western technology or a Northwestern technology. We actually have hydropower everywhere in the U.S. and that's where the growth is going to be occurring, in every region of the country. But the largest area of growth is going to be occurring in the western portions of the United States where a lot of the projects currently exist or a lot of the large federal system exists, as well as where some of the new solar and wind technologies are coming into the system driving that pump storage.

Monica Trauzzi: There have been some concerns about the high cost of hydropower. How can you deliver cost-effective energy to consumers in the U.S.?

Linda Church Ciocci: Actually, if you look at the consumer prices where there's a significant amount of hydropower, particularly in the northwest, it's some of the least cost energy for our consumers. Across the country that's pretty much true. It's very costly to build hydropower, that's true. It's one of the reasons why we're looking at incentives and policies so critical to moving and building this next generation hydro. But the real aspect is that if you take the projects along their long lifeline, these projects last 100, 150 years. That's where you get those lower costs. Once you amortize the initial cost to build it's actually very cost effective.

Monica Trauzzi: So, let's talk about policy for a minute. How does hydropower fit into the larger congressional climate debate, in particular with the Kerry-Graham-Lieberman bill set to be released in the Senate? Are you expecting hydropower to have a role in that bill?

Linda Church Ciocci: We certainly do believe that hydropower plays a significant role going forward in our climate policy. Looking at the legislation going forward, we're excited that Congress is turning its attention back to energy and climate issues, but what's really key to us is that it be a comprehensive policy. It needs to include the energy components passed by the House last year, also passed by the Senate, Senator Bingaman's bill. There are key provisions in that for us and that's really what we're hoping to see in final legislation that's passed. Ultimately, what we gain in this is the ability to grow another 60 some megawatts of hydropower and create another 1.4 million jobs for a clean energy economy. So there's a lot riding on that bill.

Monica Trauzzi: I wanted to have you addressed some of the environmental issues and concerns associated with hydropower. There are concerns about the impact on fish populations and also the flow and quality of water. Can these concerns be mitigated through advancement of the technology and future development?

Linda Church Ciocci: Absolutely. I mean we recognize that in building out the hydropower that we have today there has been an impact and we work very, very hard to mitigate those impacts. We have new technologies that we're now deploying at various facilities around the country. We have better practices. And moving forward, if you look at what we're trying to accomplish and where we're trying to build, we actually have an agreement with the environmental community going forward. They support the language that's in the Bingaman bill now and the strong RES that recognizes hydropower, as well as the tax provisions that we're currently looking to see engaged in that legislation as well. So, I think that going forward the environmental community and the hydropower industry is working very much in partnership to ensure that we built smartly and wisely going into the future.

Monica Trauzzi: OK, we'll end it there.

Linda Church Ciocci: Thank you very much.

Monica Trauzzi: And thanks for watching. We'll see you back here tomorrow.

[End of Audio]



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