CEC, PG&E to Back Legislation for Small Hydropower

By Published On: March 16, 2007

The California Energy Commission may join with Pacific Gas & Electric and other utilities to back legislation that would widen the eligibility of small hydropower facilities in and out of the state to help meet California’s renewables portfolio standard. The commission indicated its willingness to back legislation to adopt new guidelines on certifying facilities under the state’s renewables portfolio standard law. The Northern California utility is trying “to get access to the largest pool of renewable resources available,” Les Guliasi, PG&E director of state agency relations, told commissioners at its regular business meeting March 14. “The issue [PG&E] had was that the regulation and legislation are a little too restrictive to enable us to make use of the existing hydro system, and to potentially develop new resources and tap into that resource,” explained Guliasi. As long as water is not appropriated or diverted from its source, and there are no adverse environmental impacts, “we could tap into existing hydro facilities and get some incremental hydro,” he said. However, the renewables portfolio standard guidelines and law itself limit the utility’s ability to tap small hydro because hydroelectric dams are considered harmful to the environment. Under the law, power produced by new hydro facilities or conduit facilities is ineligible for renewables portfolio standard credit if it requires either additional “appropriation” or “diversion” of water. Moreover, the CEC’s guidelines require small hydro operators to show how they will meet these requirements even if they are located in Canada, a region rich in hydropower. Guliasi contends that the commission’s guidebook “isn’t clear enough to define what a ‘watercourse’ is.” Commissioner John Geesman agreed that PG&E, with all its hydro resources, is the utility with which the agency should be discussing any changes to existing rules. Guliasi told commissioners that the utility is likely to sponsor legislation this year to make it easier for hydropower to qualify under the renewable energy law. In response, Geesman said the agency would try to work out the issue even if it “takes some tweaking in the statute.” PG&E advocates that small hydropower facilities should be eligible for renewables portfolio standard credit even if they appropriate or divert water as long as they do not change the “streamflow regime” of a waterway. AB 809, a bill that Assemblymember Sam Blakeslee (R-San Luis Obispo) introduced February 22, would change the renewable energy law accordingly. The measure would allow both new in-stream and in-conduit small hydropower projects of 30 MW or less to qualify for renewable energy credit as long as they do not change the streamflow regime or cause adverse environmental impacts. “Streamflow regime” refers to the typical pattern of flow in a watercourse, which often can be controlled by people through engineered projects. Blakeslee’s bill has been referred to both the Assembly Utilities and Commerce Committee and the Natural Resources Committee. The discussion came during a meeting where the CEC adopted a series of updated guidebooks that govern which facilities are eligible for renewable energy credit under state law and can receive incentive payments. In a significant move, the new guidelines squarely open the way for power made from biogas from dairies to be eligible for renewables portfolio standard credit. That change – and the commission’s pledge to broaden the eligibility of small hydropower – come at a time when utilities are having trouble meeting milestones under the renewable energy law (see story on page 7).

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