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Hydropower is a clean choice

Bob Irvin's recent op-ed ("Maryland's Authority to Protect the Chesapeake is in Jeopardy," June 23) mischaracterizes the hydropower industry's position and the bipartisan efforts currently underway in Congress to achieve meaningful and much-needed regulatory improvements that would protect and promote environmentally responsible development of hydropower resources — our nation's largest source of clean, renewable and emissions-free electricity.

The proposed bills under consideration in Congress would not strip Maryland (or any other state) of their authority under the Federal Clean Water Act to ensure that hydropower projects — including the Conowingo Project on the Susquehanna River — meet state water quality standards, nor would they take away the authority of state and federal resource agencies to set the appropriate levels of environmental protection under these statutes.

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The hydropower industry takes seriously its responsibility to be good stewards of the environment. We would oppose any legislation that attempts to diminish the nation's modern environmental laws, including the Endangered Species Act, the Clean Water Act and federal land management statutes.

The owner of the Conowingo Project has been diligently working for some time with Maryland and federal regulators to address and resolve complex, multi-faceted issues. All parties should work together to not undo the progress that is being made in these discussions.

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It is true that the bay faces many threats today — perhaps none greater the global climate change. Relative sea level rise in the bay is occurring at twice the global average, and rising water temperatures are threatening species in the bay that already live at the edge of their range. Climate change is an enormous challenge, but everyone agrees that increasing the use of carbon-free power is central to any solution. Hydropower is one of the most important tools in our toolbox to address this immense challenge.

Hydropower helps avoid over 190 million metric tons of CO2 each year — and only 3 percent of the existing dams in the nation are equipped to generate power. Despite this immense growth potential, investment into new hydropower development, such as adding clean energy generation to existing dams that serve other functions, is severely handicapped by an outdated process, the hallmarks of which include redundant studies for different agencies, excessive extensions of time that delay real environmental improvements, overlapping and competing agency authorities, all of which often exceeds a decade or more to conclude.

When a fossil fuel plant can be permitted in downtown Manhattan in far less than half the time it takes to relicense an existing hydropower facility, it is time to take another look at the process and see how we can do better.

Recognizing this problem, Congress is rightfully considering several pieces of the legislation aimed at modernizing this counter-productive process in a manner that does not compromise environmental stewardship. The clear intent of these bills is to coordinate state and federal permitting of hydropower projects, eliminate conflicting requirements, promote transparency and accountability, and ensure timely decisions by regulators.

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We support the overarching goals in these measures to place more accountability into the process. We believe it will ensure hydropower can support our nation's goals to reduce emissions, fight climate change, and equally important, reduce costs that ultimately will benefit the consumer and allow more funds to be redirected to river protection as opposed to red tape.

All stakeholders, including the environmental community, and federal and state regulators, should be working with industry toward solutions. No one should be satisfied with a government process that stifles our most important renewable energy resource. We believe that making improvements to the licensing process can and should be accomplished in a responsible and balanced manner that protects and preserves natural resources and environmental values — yet will allow us as a nation to choose more renewable energy over more fossil generation. And because hydropower often serves as essential base load power, the alternative to hydropower is not another renewable, such as wind and solar — but rather a fossil fuel plant.

Let's work together toward a better process that protects both the environmental as well as the clean energy values of these projects. That will be good for America — and good for the bay.

Linda Church Ciocci is the executive director of the National Hydropower Association.

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