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Rep. Kuster Proposes Billions For National Hydropower Upgrades, Dam Repair And Removal

Britta Greene/NHPR

A new bill from New Hampshire Congresswoman Annie Kuster would invest billions of dollars in the U.S.’s  aging hydropower dam system. 

The bipartisan plan focuses on what Kuster calls the 3 Rs: rehabilitating, retrofitting and removing outdated dams, especially the thousands that are in unsafe condition and would cause disastrous flooding if they failed.

New Hampshire has about 3,000 dams. Most of them are privately owned, and a number of larger dams generate electricity, including on the Connecticut River. New England currently gets about 7% of its electricity from hydropower on average.

About 160 of New Hampshire's dams are in high-risk locations, and about 30 are in poor or unsatisfactory condition, according to the Association of Dam Safety Officials and a 2019 Associated Press investigation.

Kuster's bill, named the Twenty-First Century Dams Act, includes $25.8 billion in grants and loans to improve dam safety and increase clean energy generation. It also includes a 30% tax credit for dam repair and removal work, and sets aside funding to remove about a thousand dams with a goal of reconnecting 10,000 miles of rivers nationwide.

In a press release, Kuster said the goal of the package is to address those hazards, create more resilient infrastructure and increase clean energy generation to combat climate change.

"It is rare to see such coordination and unified problem-solving from across industries," Kuster's statement said. "I am proud to introduce this legislation in the House to enhance America’s clean energy production and the health of our nation’s rivers.”

Kuster's co-sponsors on the bill include Alaska Republican Rep. Don Young. The measure stems from a consensus-building process at Stanford University and has support from a range of interest groups, including environmental advocates and hydropower associations. 

"These benefits will … serve as a model for how communities around the world can craft solutions to find a better balance between river systems and water management infrastructure," said World Wildlife Fund scientist Jeff Opperman in Kuster's press release.

A companion version of Kuster's bill will be introduced in the Senate later this month by California Democrat Dianne Feinstein. 

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Annie has covered the environment, energy, climate change and the Seacoast region for NHPR since 2017. She leads the newsroom's climate reporting project, By Degrees.
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