Decarbonization, Clean Energy Standards, and Yoga: Get to Know the National Hydropower Association

Source: Montana Department of Environmental Quality

The National Hydropower Association (NHA) is dedicated to promoting the growth of clean, affordable U.S. hydropower, uniting over 200 companies in the North American hydropower industry from Fortune 500 corporations to family-owned small businesses. In this conversation, NHA President and CEO Malcolm Woolf highlights the key obstacles and opportunities that will unlock the reliability, cost, load flexibility, and environmental benefits that hydro systems have to offer.

Sandy Fazeli, NASEO: Malcolm, first of all, welcome back to NASEO. NHA recently joined our membership ranks as an Affiliate, but you personally have a long history with our organization, including a great few years as NASEO’s Chair. Could you get us up to speed on your work, and what ultimately led you to a leadership role in the hydro industry?

Malcolm Woolf, NHA:  Old state energy office directors don’t fade away; we simply find new ways to contribute. Some join NASEO staff, while others become PUC commissioners. In my case, I wanted to continue promoting affordable, reliable, clean energy. I first joined a start-up business association, Advanced Energy Economy, advocating for all forms of advanced energy solutions. Like many others in the clean energy space, however, I overlooked the critical role of hydropower in providing base-load, dispatchable, carbon-free power. I also wasn’t aware that 97% of existing U.S. dams are non-powered, and that – without building any new dams – the U.S. could add 50 GW of clean energy by adding power to existing dams, upgrading existing powered facilities and adding new pumped storage. I joined the National Hydropower Association to raise hydropower’s visibility as an essential part of a climate solution and a reliable 21st century grid. And one of my first steps was to join NASEO’s affiliate program to help spread the word.

SF: You recently authored an op-ed on Greentech Media discussing the evolution of state renewable portfolio standards and clean energy goals, noting that many leading states underrate – or completely miss – the value that hydropower projects in terms of carbon-free electricity generation. Can you elaborate?

MW: States are leading the charge towards deep decarbonization. Yet, states shouldn’t simply replace their existing RPS target with a 100% clean energy standard. RPS laws were intended to encourage the development of new clean energy technologies. Clean Energy Standards, in contrast, have a more ambitious goal – developing a 100% carbon-free grid. To do so, all carbon-free technologies – new and existing - need to be eligible to compete in a 100% clean energy standard. In fact, it will be difficult, if not impossible, to integrate high levels of variable wind and solar without flexible, long-duration reservoir hydro and pumped storage. Allowing all carbon-free technologies to compete will enable a state to achieve its clean energy goals while promoting reliability and affordability at the same time.

SF: What advice would you offer to NASEO’s state and territory members interested in maximizing opportunities for hydro in their state?

MW: I’ve heard hydropower referred to as the “yoga of the grid": the flexibility it provides allows other parts of the grid to work better.

Since hydropower currently operates in every state but Delaware and Mississippi, I encourage state energy offices to get to know their local hydropower and pumped storage facilities. Ask the operators about the flexibility provided by their hydro generation and whether they are fully compensated for providing those services to the grid. States should also ask grid planners whether hydropower is included in IRP or other state / regional plans. And remember that it was hydropower’s black start capability that restored the grid after the 2003 blackout so keep hydropower in mind during reliability and resiliency planning as well!

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NHA is one of NASEO’s 50+ Affiliate members, a coalition of businesses, trade associations, nonprofit organizations, and educational institutions dedicated to deepening their understanding of state energy policy and strengthening connections with the State and Territory Energy Offices. NASEO “Get to Know” interview series enable Affiliates to share information about their work, priorities, products, and services with other NASEO members, but does not represent a formal endorsement by NASEO. To be included, please contact sfazeli@naseo.org.