U.S. Senator John Barrasso (R-WY), ranking member of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources (ENR), delivered the following remarks at a full committee hearing to examine the opportunities and challenges for maintaining existing hydropower capacity, expanding hydropower at non-powered dams, and increasing pumped storage hydropower.  

The hearing featured testimony from Ms. Jennifer Garson, acting director of the Water Power Technologies Office at the U.S. Department of Energy; the Honorable Camille Touton, commissioner of the Bureau of Reclamation; Mr. Scott Corwin, executive director of the Northwest Public Power Association; and Mr. Malcolm Woolf, president and CEO of the National Hydropower Association. 

For more information on witness testimony click here.

Senator Barrasso’s remarks:

“Thanks so much Mr. Chairman and thanks so much for holding this important hearing.

“We are once again discussing the need for affordable, reliable, and resilient energy.

“Before turning to today’s hearing topic, I would like to address a letter that dozens of Democrats sent to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission last week.

“It was in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal under the headline ‘No Climate Warriors in Frozen Foxholes.

“Like the Wall Street Journal, I found it ridiculous that there are members of Congress, members of the Senate, who have worked to undermine our nation’s ability to produce natural gas, and they are now expressing their concern about its high prices.

“These are the same members, who want to impose a new natural gas tax on American families.    

“They are the same members who oppose new domestic natural gas production.

“And they include many Northeastern members, who oppose new pipelines, which would give their own states access to some of the nation’s cheapest natural gas.

“Specifically, natural gas from West Virginia.

“If these Democrats want to reduce energy prices, they need to work with Republicans to make it easier – not more difficult – to produce American energy.

“That includes developing and using all forms of energy.

“Which brings us to the topic of today’s hearing.

“Hydropower produces more than seven percent of our nation’s electricity – it’s critical.

“Until recently, hydropower was our nation’s largest source of renewable energy.

“Unlike other sources of renewable energy, hydropower is available when it is needed.

“That means hydroelectric dams can provide power whether it is day or night – whether the wind is blowing, the sun is shining, no matter what.

“Hydropower can once again be our largest source of renewable energy if we maintain our existing hydroelectric dams and encourage the installation of turbines on our nation’s non-powered dams.

“The overwhelming majority of our dams do not produce any hydropower.

“More than 90,000 dams exist, yet fewer than 2,300 produce electricity.

“That’s less than three percent.

“Clearly, not every dam is well suited to energy generation.

“There are many important considerations beyond energy production.

“Those include preserving and enhancing recreation, farming, ranching and wildlife habitat.

“But with only three percent of our dams producing energy, that does leave a lot of room for growth.

“According to the Department of Energy, installing turbines on some of these dams would provide at least 12 gigawatts of additional electricity.

“That’s enough renewable energy electricity to power 9 million homes.

“Growing our nation’s hydropower capacity would help our country reduce or avoid new greenhouse gas emissions.

“It would also increase the reliability and resiliency of our nation’s electric grids.

“This is especially important in light of the blackout events in California and across the Midwest in recent years.

“Hydropower can also be used to re-power an electric grid which has collapsed.

“This is known as ‘black start’ capability.

“To provide this service, an electric generation unit cannot rely on any power from the collapsed grid.

“The Texas grid came dangerously close to requiring a black start last year. 

“Roughly 40 percent of the electric generating units – which are maintained for black start services – are hydropower units. That’s why they’re so critical.

“This attribute makes hydropower a particularly attractive resource in light of the increasing threats to the electric grid from cyberattacks.

“Hydropower is clearly an important component of an all-of-the-above energy strategy.

“We should encourage more hydropower generation.

“If we are going to grow our nation’s hydropower capacity, we must address the permitting process.

“This is especially important for utilities which are deciding whether or not to relicense existing hydropower units.

“Streamlining the permit process is also necessary to promote the installation of hydropower turbines on some of these non-powered dams.

“Currently, hydropower faces one of the most complex and time-consuming permitting processes.

“The glacial pace of permitting is a significant barrier to private sector investment in hydropower.

“It reduces the likelihood of investment in upgrading existing hydropower facilities and installing turbines on non-powered dams. 

“According to the 2017 testimony of one hydropower developer, ‘The timeline for a new hydropower development project to reach commercial operation is between 10 and 13 years, which is almost unmatched in the power generation space. Most of this time is taken by permitting.’

“Little has changed since 2017.

“For that reason, I encourage the committee to explore meaningful reforms to the hydropower licensing process.

“To do that, the committee should also get input from the FERC and additional agencies within the Department of the Interior on this topic.

“I hope we can do that soon, Mr. Chairman.

“Thank you again for holding this important hearing.

“I’d like to extend a warm welcome to all the witnesses.

“I look forward to your testimony on this important topic.”

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