Unlocking Hydroelectric Potential in Pennsylvania a “Two-Way Street”

On Dec. 8, PEC partnered with the Penelec Sustainable Energy Fund of the Community Foundation for the Alleghenies, in coordination with the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission (PUC), to host “Untapped Potential: A Briefing on Hydroelectricity in Pennsylvania.”

Lindsay Baxter
Lindsay Baxter

This invitation-only meeting in Harrisburg brought together 40-plus hydroelectric stakeholders and featured a panel discussion with PUC Chairman Gladys Brown, Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) Secretary John Quigley, Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) Secretary Cindy Adams Dunn, Secretary John Hanger of the Office of Policy and Planning, and Kamau Sudiki, the National Hydropower Business Line Manager, US Army, Corps of Engineers. The panel was moderated by PEC President Davitt Woodwell.

Pennsylvania has incredible untapped potential for clean, renewable energy generation from its 83,000 miles of streams and rivers, as well as existing infrastructure for industry and water treatment. Presenter David Zayas, Manager of Regulatory Affairs for the National Hydropower Association, shared that in a recent DOE study of 80,000 dams, only 3 percent were equipped with hydroelectric generating equipment. Pennsylvania ranked No. 6 in terms of hydropower potential, with an estimated 679 megawatts of potential capacity. This number doesn’t count potential applications at municipal or privately-owned dams, conduits, and other water features, nor does it include potential increases in efficiency and generating capacity at existing powered dams.

John Seifarth of Voith Hydro, a manufacturer in York County, and Don Lauzon of Rye Development, which is developing 10 potential sites in Southwestern Pennsylvania, each spoke to the economic impact of hydroelectricity. In fact, Pennsylvania is home to over 250 companies in the hydroelectric industry supply chain, accounting for over 5,000 jobs.

The take home message of the discussion was that Pennsylvania’s leadership is eager to embrace clean energy sources, which includes hydroelectricity. However, fostering development of that resource is a “two-way street,” requiring cooperation from the industry.

Potential roles the state could play include connecting potential investors to potential projects, developing financial mechanisms to attract private capital to hydro projects in Pennsylvania, and assessing whether changes to permitting processes are necessary. However, the leaders on the panel also challenged the industry to develop a clearinghouse of potential projects, concrete suggestions for financial mechanisms, and improved, more-complete permit applications—something PEC’s Hydroelectric Permitting Manual for Pennsylvania seeks to address.

Finally, Secretary Dunn highlighted the work DCNR has already done to incorporate renewable energy into its facilities and operations and an eagerness to explore options to utilize hydropower.