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A bipartisan group of U.S. senators has introduced the Hydropower Improvement Act of 2013, legislation meant to make it easier for existing dams and conduit projects, such as canals, to add small hydropower capacity by easing federal licensing processes.

The Hydropower Improvement Act of 2013 is led by Sens. Lisa Murkowski, R-Ala., the top Republican on the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, and Ron Wyden, D-Ore., the committee's chairman, along with committee members Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., and James Risch, R-Idaho. Sens. Patty Murray, D-Wash., Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, and Mark Begich, D-Alaska, are also co-sponsoring the bill.

Specifically, the bill would do the following:

- Exempt small conduit projects producing up to 5 MW of power from Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) licensing requirements;

- Allow FERC to exempt small conduit projects that would produce up to 40 MW on a case-by-case basis;

- Exempt small hydropower projects generating up to 10 MW of power from FERC licensing requirements, compared with the current 5 MW limit; and

- Provide FERC with the authority to extend its three-year preliminary permit terms for up to two additional years to allow a permit applicant sufficient time to develop and file a license application.

The bill would also require FERC to study the feasibility of a streamlined two-year permitting process for proposed projects at existing non-powered dams and closed-loop pumped storage projects.

The Hydropower Improvement Act of 2013 is considered companion legislation to H.R.267, which cleared the House on Feb. 13.

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