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What is hydropower?

Hydropower uses the energy of moving water to produce electricity. Also known as hydroelectric power, it's been used to generate electricity for over 100 years and currently provides about 10 percent of the country's electricity.

  • Is immediately available and renewable;
  • Helps conserve fuel; and
  • Provides recreation, irrigation, flood control, transportation, and habitat for fish and wildlife.

The Water Cycle

The Process of hydroelectric generation

Hydroelectricity generation begins at a dam where the power plant converts the force of falling water into electricity. Hydroelectricity is used as either a primary or reserve energy source. In areas that have land for large-scale projects and an abundant water supply, hydropower can be the primary source of electricity. California, the Pacific Northwest, and New England have large numbers of hydroelectric projects. As a reserve source, hydroelectric projects can provide extra power to meet high demands.

Cross Section of a Dam

What are the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission's (FERC) responsibilities for regulating hydropower?

  • Regulating non-federal hydroelectric power projects that affect navigable waters;
  • Issuing preliminary permits to study a potential hydropower site;
  • Processing hydropower license applications and projecting exemptions from licensing;
  • Preparing environmental documents; and
  • Ensuring dam safety.;

What FERC does not regulate

  • FERC does not issue Water Quality Certificates.

Brief History of Hydropower Regulation

Hydroelectric power regulation was the first work undertaken by the Federal Power Commission, after Congress passed the Federal Water Power Act of 1920.

The Commission regulates hydroelectric power projects under the following statutes:

Licensing Hydropower Projects

  • Licenses are issued for a term of between 30 to 50 years, and exemptions are granted in perpetuity;
  • Commission costs are offset by annual charges collected from license and exemption holders;
  • The Commission determines charges for a licensee's use of federal lands, federal dams, and Native American reservations; and
  • Licensed projects receive comprehensive safety inspections.

Did You Know...
The Commission is responsible for dam safety at over 2,600 licensed and exempted dams and related water retention structures.

Do you want to learn more about hydropower? See these other helpful Web sites.
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