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Policy Statement 379 - Hydropower

Approved by the Energy, Environment, and Water Policy Committee on January 22, 2019
Approved by the Public Policy Committee on April 28, 2019
Adopted by the Board of Direction on July 13, 2019


The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) supports the continued use, expansion, and development of hydroelectric power (hydropower) opportunities, including pumped storage and hydrokinetic facilities where feasible. The development and use of hydropower must be done in a manner that maximizes safety and balances the environmental, social, and economic impacts.

ASCE supports continued streamlining of licensing regulations for new hydropower projects, as well as improvements to existing hydropower relicensing regulation and implementation. Hydropower construction and operation should effectively consider potential impacts to both sediment transport and aquatic species movement. ASCE also supports the development of pumped storage capacity for the improved integration of renewable and conventional electricity sources, given its ability to store energy and follow changing demand with time. 


Hydroelectric generation provides a renewable, clean, and inexpensive source of energy. Hydroelectric production can contribute to reduction of dependence on fossil fuel energy sources and can provide positive impacts on clean air issues. The current licensing process is extremely complex, costly, and time-consuming.

Requirements tend to discourage hydro owners/developers from developing new hydro facilities at existing dams, especially small and low-head hydropower using open stream or conduit-based applications. The amendment process for increasing the capacity, efficiency and output of existing plants and relicensing projects that reached the end of their Federal Energy Regulatory Commission operating license are similarly prohibitive.

Pumped storage hydroelectric generation represents approximately 21.6 Gigawatt (GW) of capacity at present in the United States. An important component feature of energy storage involves the incorporation of intermittent renewables, such as wind power, solar power, and water power to increase the reliability of our national electrical transmission grid. Development of pumped storage capacity is a capital-intensive infrastructure activity, requiring significant upfront investment. In addition, an uncertain regulatory and licensing environment increases risks and may discourage use of this technology. It has been estimated that pumped storage has enormous potential to provide support to the U.S. electrical grid and support renewable energy production consistent with the goals of the Energy Policy Act of 2005.  


ASCE recognizes that continued economical, reliable, safe and environmentally acceptable energy production and development are critical to economic growth and national security. Three U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) studies ("An Assessment of Energy Potential at Non-Powered Dams in the United States", April 2012; Feasibility Assessment of the Water Energy Resources of the United States for New Low Power and Small Hydro Classes of Hydroelectric Plants," January 2006; "Estimation of Economic Parameters of United States Hydropower Resources", June 2003) highlight the undeveloped hydropower potential at existing dams and low-head/low-power opportunities for development of indigenous renewable hydropower sources. As a result, the DOE initiated an ambitious "Hydropower Vision" program to document and analyze the current status of the hydropower industry and to lead the development of a cohesive long-term vision, growth strategy, and relevant information for the broad U.S. hydropower community. The DOE estimates that there are nearly 50 GW of undeveloped hydropower potential in the U.S. The DOE Report also estimates that the existing 21.6 GW of domestic pumped storage capacity can increase in both the near term (2030), by 16.2 GW, and in the longer term (2050), by an additional 19.3 GW, for a total of 35.5 GW deployed by 2050. This extra capacity would also provide significant energy storage for other variable generation renewables. 

ASCE Policy Statement 379
First Approved in 1991