Grant PUD chief testifies before House
WASHINGTON DC – With growing demand for electricity in Grant County, federal energy regulators must make it easier for hydroelectric generators like the Grant County Utility District to renew dam permits and improve power generation. electricity, PUD chief executive Richard Wallen told members of the House of Representatives on Thursday. .
“Our load is increasing and we are approaching physical production in 2026,” Wallen said. “We need a new generation or new ways to get it.”
Speaking before the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Energy at a hearing on proposed changes to the licensing process for hydroelectric dams, Wallen said the PUD would not need to re-license the Wanapum and Priest Rapids dams for 30 years. However, he said, energy providers like the PUD would benefit from a streamlined process to shorten the licensing process for power generation dams.
“We’re good at Grant through 2052,” Wallen said.
The two PUD dams were last renewed with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in 2008 for 44 years, according to PUD spokeswoman Christine Pratt.
Wallen was joined in the three-hour hearing by Malcolm Woolf, president and CEO of the National Hydropower Association; Tom Kiernan, CEO of American Rivers, which lobbies for river restoration and supports calls by Native American groups to remove Snake River dams; Mary Pavel, lawyer and member of the Skokomish tribe of the Olympic Peninsula; and Chris Wood, president and CEO of Trout Unlimited, a conservation group that champions fisheries and anglers across the country.
Everyone agrees that although it only generates about 7% of the country’s total electricity, hydroelectric power is an invaluable renewable resource, essential to the sustainability and reliability of the electricity grid.
“A big reason companies like Sila (Nanotech) are coming to Washington is for hydroelectricity,” said Rep. Cathy McMorris Rogers, R-Spokane.
However, the dams also impose costs and consequences on the environment, wildlife, and affect treaty obligations with Native American tribes, noted subcommittee chair Rep. Bobby Rush, D-Ill., who also describes hydroelectricity as a “wonderful source of carbon-free electricity”. .”
“It is indeed a complicated issue, one that deserves the attention of this subcommittee,” Rush said at the start of the hearing.
Both Woolf and Kiernan led an uncommon formal dialogue—a formal way to convene subject matter experts to resolve an issue—that brought together both the hydroelectric association and American Rivers as well as representatives of Native American tribes and conservation groups to develop a series of changes to current dam licensing rules. These rules aim to overcome disagreements and gain the support of all parties involved.
The proposed changes would make the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission – which currently licenses all hydroelectric dams – the lead agency responsible for coordinating all other federal government agencies, involve tribes directly in the process rather than through the intermediary of tribal administrators of the Ministry of the Interior, and would enact a time limit for the licensing process that begins at the time of submission of the application.
“It’s more complex to re-authorize a hydroelectric dam than a nuclear plant,” Woolf said, noting that the average time it takes to re-authorize a dam is 7.6 years.
“It’s way too long,” Woolf said.
He compared lengthy federal licenses for a hydroelectric dam with state licenses for wind projects, which can only take a year in Texas or three years in California.
There are about 90,000 dams in the United States, Woolf noted, and only 3% of them generate electricity. Of those hydroelectric dams, about 75% are owned by public entities — 25% by organizations like the Grant PUD and 50% by the federal government through the Bureau of Reclamation or the Army Corps of Engineers — Woolf said.
Pavel said having Native American tribes and their governments directly involved in the process would dramatically shorten the licensing process, citing the long fight the Skokomish fought from the 1970s to have their interests taken into account. in Tacoma Public Utility’s new Cushman Hydroelectric Project license.
“The tribe would have been at the table with the licensee from the start,” she said. “Our tribe is just a small tribe. If Tacoma had known we were the people they needed to talk to, they would have.
Charles H. Featherstone can be reached at [email protected]