Washington lawmakers introduce bipartisan bill on hydropower, renewable energy

WASHINGTON, D.C. – State representatives are teaming up to propose a bill that would make it easier to permit projects focused on using hydropower to generate renewable energy in the Pacific Northwest.

Eastern Washington Congressman Dan Newhouse (R, WA-04) and U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) reintroduced the ‘Pacific Northwest Pumped Storage Hydropower Development Act of 2021,’ as announced on Tuesday morning. With bipartisan backing, this bill has the power to lower energy costs for Washington state’s consumers while generating an expected 1,000 jobs and reducing the state’s carbon footprint.

“This legislation enhances our region’s hydropower capabilities while strengthening Washington’s leadership in our nation’s pathway to a clean energy future,” said Rep. Newhouse. “By streamlining the permitting process for pumped storage projects, we can encourage investment across the country. More immediately, this bill will pave the way for a pumped storage project right here in Central Washington that will create jobs, improve our storage capabilities, and increase our supply of clean, carbon-free energy.”

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The benefit of having pumped hydropower storage is that it generates electricity by pumping water between reservoirs in places where electricity cost and demand are high. Currently, the permitting process for pumped hydropower storage requires clearance from two separate entities: The Bureau of Reclamation and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). The ‘Pacific Northwest Pumped Storage Hydropower Development Act of 2021,’ is a plan that reduces the cost and strain required to receive clearance for such projects.

“Pumped storage projects help integrate renewable energy into our power grid and drive down costs for consumers,” Senator Cantwell said. “This legislation will help increase our use of carbon-free power and create jobs in Eastern Washington.”

Currently, there’s one active proposal for a non-federal pumped hydropower facility from Columbia Basin Hydropower, which delivers water to roughly 700,000 acres in Northeast Washington. The proposed Banks Lake Storage Project, a $1.4 billion, 500-megawatt project set for Northeast Washington, would pump water between Banks Lake and Lake Roosevelt. This would provide more energy storage for the region, allowing for more eco-friendly renewable energy.

“Which would provide a critical new source of carbon free capactiy for the Pacific Northwest power grid as well as create new jobs right here in central Washington,” Newhouse explained.

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As part of the proposed bill, the Bureau of Reclamation would retain sole jurisdiction over approval for the Banks Lake Storage Project. In theory, this would empower Tribes, help them retain power in the permitting process and helps to protect their rights.

While this project has major implications for integrating renewable energy in Eastern Washington, it also paves the way for similar projects throughout the nation. The emphasis on reducing the United States’ carbon footprint is increasing rapidly and this is another way to reduce emissions while using natural resources for the greater good.

Darvin Fales, Secretary-Manager at Columbia Basin Hydropower, expressed his appreciation and support of the proposed bill.

“This commonsense legislation will open the door for the Pacific Northwest to add 500 megawatts or more of clean hydroelectric power, energy storage, and other ancillary services to its electric grid. We encourage Congress to move this bipartisan legislation across the finish line,” Fales said.

KAPP KVEW reached out to Franklin PUD to see if this legislation would effect their organization.

“We fully support hydro projects that provide additional generation to firm up the intermittency of wind and solar projects. As Congressman Newhouse has stated, hydro provides a clean low cost energy resource for the Pacific Northwest. We believe that this legislation will assist in maintaining a reliable low cost energy system especially as coal fired generation plants are retired and the need for baseload generation becomes ever more critical,” Scott Rhees the General Manager of Franklin PUD added.

They also explained it would help operations at the Esquatzel Canal, which is a key part of their energy portfolio.

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