Congressman Steve Daines today introduced legislation to lift regulatory barriers that presently block new hydropower development in Montana.
The Bureau of Reclamation Conduit Hydropower Development Equity and Jobs Act will remove outdated federal statutes that currently prevent irrigation districts in Montana and other western states from developing hydropower on Bureau of Reclamation (BOR) canals, ditches, and conduits.
"This common sense legislation will immediately put people back to work in rural communities developing clean, renewable hydropower at no cost to taxpayers, while helping lower energy costs for Montanans," Daines stated. "Montana's irrigation districts provide valuable sources of water for our state's pastures and farm land, but also hold tremendous potential for serving our state's energy needs. It's time for these outdated and senseless federal barriers to be removed so that this renewable energy source can be developed."
There are 11 projects nationwide that would be immediately impacted by Daines' bill, four of which are in Montana. Additionally, Daines' bill, in combination with H.R. 678-- the Bureau of Reclamation Small Conduit Hydropower Development and Rural Jobs Act, which recently passed through the House with overwhelming bipartisan support--could lead to development of at least 32 conduit hydropower sites on BOR conduits in Montana.
The House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Water and Power will hold a legislative hearing on Daines' bill on Thursday, May 23, 2013 at 10:00AM EST.
Impacted Montana Projects
Milk River Project -- Located in north-central Montana, this irrigation district presently furnishes water for the irrigation of more than 120,000 acres of land between Havre and Nashua. According to a BOR March 2012 report, developing the Nelson North Canal of the Milk River Project for hydropower could generate 221,743 kilowatt hours of electricity per year. More information here.
Buffalo Rapids Project --This project lies along the Yellowstone River and provides irrigation water for 22,719 acres of land in the vicinity of Glendive, Fallon, and Terry. More information here.
Intake Project -- Adjacent to the Lower Yellowstone Project, this irrigation district serves 823 acres in Dawson County. More information here.
Missoula Valley Project -- Located near Frenchtown on bank of Clark Fork River, this project furnishes irrigation water from the Bitterroot River for about 800 acres of land. More information here.
Additional Background on Daines' Bill
Current statute under the Water Conservation and Utilization Act of 1939 only allows the federal government to develop hydropower along BOR conduits and requires any revenues associated with that development to stay with the federal government. As a result, a non-federal developer is prohibited from developing this resource and even if it was allowed, it could not collect any revenues it receives from selling hydropower.
Numerous irrigation districts hold the potential to develop hydropower, but the outdated federal law hinders the development of these small hydropower projects, driving up planning costs significantly and sometimes rendering them economically unfeasible. As a result, American energy producers often forego developing clean energy on these man-made conduits, many of which are in Montana.
Daines' bill would remove these statutory barriers, authorize non-federal hydropower development at some BOR projects, and generate lease revenues for the federal government while allowing irrigation districts to generate income from sold hydropower, providing funds that could be used for aging infrastructure repairs.
Additionally, the bill codifies the existing streamlined National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) categorical exclusion process, clears up multi-agency confusion to establish the BOR as the sole permitting authority for hydropower development on projects covered by the bill, offers a right of first refusal for small hydropower development to the entities operating the facility as they are most familiar with its details, and ensures that water supply for irrigation remains the primary purpose of the facilities and that hydropower developed on these facilities will be ancillary to providing water supplies.