Rock Island Dam

WENATCHEE – Hydropower projects received a boost from Congress with an “early action” hydro provision included in the passage of America’s Water Infrastructure Act of 2018.

The bill, signed into law Tuesday by President Donald Trump, includes a provision that will spur investments in existing hydropower dams, a legislative change the Chelan County PUD has been seeking for the past five years as it prepares to relicense Rock Island Dam.

“Hydropower faces new opportunities and challenges as demands on the electric system change,” said Chelan PUD General Manager Steve Wright. “Congress has recognized that it is good public policy to encourage hydropower licensees to make new investments during the existing hydro license term, rather than waiting for relicensing. This provides value to Chelan PUD utility customers by protecting our long-term investment in Rock Island. It also allows us to discuss other actions we can take, in advance of relicensing, with stakeholders that are willing to make early commitments.”

The bill directs the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to weigh early investments at hydropower projects when deciding the length of a future federal operating license. License terms are between 30 and 50 years under the Federal Power Act but FERC issued a policy in 2017 stating most new licenses would be for 40 years with the potential to earn a 50-year license under certain conditions.

Chelan PUD officials say there was still uncertainty about the types of investments that may earn a 50-year lease. The new law ensures that “…redevelopment, new construction, new capacity, efficiency, modernization, rehabilitation or replacement of major equipment, safety improvements, or environmental, recreation or other protection, mitigation or enhancement measures…” can help to earn a longer license term.

The hydropower section of the bill received bipartisan support under the guidance of Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA) and Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA)

“Senator Cantwell and Representative McMorris Rodgers are leading the nation on hydropower issues that make a real difference here at home,” Wright added. “We would like to sincerely thank them both for championing this issue.”

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