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Ms. MURKOWSKI. Mr. President, I rise today to introduce legislation aimed at increasing the production of our hardest working renewable resource, one that often gets overlooked in the clean energy debate--hydropower. The Hydropower Improvement Act of 2013 is a bipartisan bill co-sponsored by my colleagues Senators Wyden, Risch, Cantwell, Crapo, Murray, and Begich, true hydropower advocates. The Hydropower Improvement Act of 2013 seeks to increase substantially the capacity and generation of our clean, renewable hydropower resources that will improve environmental quality and support local job creation and economic investment across the nation.
There is no question that hydropower is, and must continue to be, part of our energy solution. It is the largest source of renewable electricity in the United States. The approximately 100,000 megawatts of hydroelectric capacity we now have today provide about seven percent of the Nation's electricity needs. Hydro-electric generation is carbon-free baseload power that allows us to avoid over 200 million metric tons of carbon emissions each year. Hydropower is clean, efficient, and inexpensive. Yet, despite its tremendous benefits I am constantly amazed at how some undervalue this important resource.
Perhaps it's because conventional wisdom dismisses our Nation's hydropower capacity as tapped out. That is simply not the case. If anything, hydropower is really an underdeveloped resource--something we certainly understand in my home State of Alaska where hydro already supplies 24 percent of the State's electricity needs and over 200 promising sites for further hydropower development have been identified. There is great potential for additional hydropower development in every state, not just Alaska.
According to the Department of Energy, conventional hydropower facilities have the capacity to generate an additional 75,000 megawatts of power--a staggering amount of clean, inexpensive power. Now, that doesn't seem possible until you realize that only three percent of the country's 80,000 existing dams are even electrified. Significant amounts of new capacity--anywhere between 20,000 and 60,000 megawatts--can be derived from simple efficiency improvements or capacity additions at existing facilities. Additional hydropower can be captured in existing man-made conduits and hydroelectric pumped storage projects can help reliably integrate other renewable resources that are intermittent, such as wind, onto our grid.
The Hydropower Improvement Act of 2013 seeks to multiply our nation's hydropower capacity in an effort to expand clean power generation and create domestic jobs. The bill provides the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission with the authority to extend preliminary permit terms and to explore a possible 2-year licensing process for hydropower development at non-powered dams and closed loop pumped storage projects. The bill establishes an expedited process for FERC to consider ``qualifying conduit'' hydropower facilities and increases the rated capacity for small hydro projects to 10 megawatts. The act also calls for the Department of Energy to conduct studies of the technical flexibility and grid reliability benefits that pumped storage facilities can provide to support intermittent renewable energy, as well as on the range of opportunities for conduit hydropower potential. Importantly, the Hydropower Improvement Act of 2013 does not contain any spending authorizations and therefore does not represent any new funding.
It is my hope that as the Senate considers our Nation's long-term energy policy, we can finally recognize the important contribution the renewable resource of hydropower makes, and will continue to make, toward our clean energy goals. Our colleagues in the House have already done so. The Hydropower Improve Act of 2013 is a companion piece to H.R. 267, the Hydropower Regulatory Efficiency Act of 2013 sponsored by Representatives McMorris-Rogers and DeGette. H.R. 267 recently passed the House by a stunning 422-0 vote and is supported by both the National Hydropower Association and American Rivers. I ask my colleagues to join me in supporting this hydropower legislation to promote the further development of our most cost-effective, clean energy option.
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