They fight hydro with our money
October 31, 2012
The chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, Rep. Doc Hastings, of Washington state, will hold a hearing to look into questions of why federal funds are going to nationwide advocacy groups that routinely oppose hydroelectric development and licensing.
The suggestion is that federal funding is being utilized to frustrate required federal licensing on projects throughout the country, contrary to the intent of the recent bipartisan action enacting legislation titled the “Saving Our Dams and New Hydropower Development and Jobs Act.” This act created an expedited process for federal review of license applications under the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and was intended to eliminate the “chilling effect” reducing the number of applicants for federal hydro permits because of the process’s complexity, expense, time delays and uncertainty.
The subject of the Natural Resources Committee hearing includes a proposed bill that would eliminate federal-grant funding to a list of hydroelectric opponents including American Rivers, the same national group that has come to the Roaring Fork Valley only recently and has received over $1 million in federal grants. Backyard Energy, a local group of proponents for reconstruction of the Castle Creek hydroelectric project, has similar questions on the appropriateness of federal funding for such groups and how such funding affects creation of a level playing field for FERC action.
Why does Backyard Energy suspect foul play with federal money? First, American Rivers was one of two opposition groups that answered questions from the Aspen Chamber Resort Association regarding disclosure of the identity and source of their funding and participated in the recent community forum (this forum is being rebroadcast on Grassroots TV up until the time of the election). Yet American Rivers did not disclose the federal funds or how they ensure that none of the federal money is going towards their opposition efforts.
Also, American Rivers testified on streamlining the federal licensing of hydro plants in June, and during that testimony made statements (regarding the Castle Creek project) that were not supported by evidence, continuing to rely on generalized data from streams in other areas of the world (specifically Michigan, Florida and the U.K., none of which come anywhere close to resembling stream characteristics of high mountain streams in the Central Rockies). While making these allegations, they again failed to adequately justify the basis of their conclusions or to consult with the applicant to find out if there was more site-specific information on the streams in question. Basically, American Rivers used their opinion and stated it as fact on the Congressional record with no recourse to Aspen to correct the disinformation.
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Next, looking into the details of how the new FERC licensing legislation operates, one finds an obvious loophole available to opponent groups to slant the playing field in their favor, particularly considering their use of federal funds. The new legislation provides that any project less than 10 megawatts is eligible for an expedited review, except when it is “controversial.” FERC considers opposition from organized hydro opponents such as American Rivers without requiring any evidence or supporting information regarding why the project would have adverse impacts. Thus, while receiving federal grants, a group such as American Rivers only has to state the project will have negative impacts or request additional studies, without adequately defending their position and describing how it is supported by facts or studies relevant to a particular case.
Hydro projects can be delayed by up to three years by the mere presence of opposition by American Rivers and similar organizations, all while they receive federal money. The delay, along with the increased the cost of studies and permitting (and resulting cloud over the outcome of the permit process), results in fewer applications. This runs counter to the intent of the recently passed legislation and explains why Congress has elected to question funding for these organizations. The resultant delay, and added permitting and studies costs, is a major part of why the Castle Creek Energy Center project has increased beyond the original budget amount.
How this played out locally is with an advisory referendum before the city of Aspen’s electorate, who already approved the project by a landslide.
I believe voters should be guided by Auden Schendler’s response to American Rivers’ assertions: Why in the world would it make sense to manage our rivers and streams using generalized studies when we have sound scientific evidence conducted by the preeminent scientists in the state?
It boils down to this: Until American Rivers can prove otherwise, the opposition is using your federal tax dollars to stall – and thus make more expensive – a project funded with your local tax dollars. Is that productive?
Please support local hydro by voting “yes” on 2C.