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Hydropower: It's a Small World after All

53 Pages Posted: 19 Sep 2012 Last revised: 24 May 2014

Gina S. Warren

University of Houston Law Center

Date Written: August 15, 2012


Global warming is here. As exhibited by the recent droughts, heat waves, severe storms and floods, climate change is no longer a question for the future, but a problem for the present. Of the many ways to help combat climate change, this article discusses the use of the most abundant renewable energy source on the plant – water. While large-scale hydropower (think Hoover Dam) is unlikely to see increased development due to its negative impact on the environment, fish, and wildlife, small-scale hydropower (think a highly technologically-advanced water mill) is environmentally-friendly and would produce clean, renewable energy to benefit local communities as well as the global climate. Unfortunately, small hydropower development has been stymied by antiquated federal hydropower licensing regulations – originally intended for regulation of large hydropower dams.

Without significant regulatory changes, development is, and will continue to be, cost-prohibitive for many projects. This article concludes that more small hydropower resources would be developed if the federal government delegated to the states the authority to license these projects, either through legislation or, more likely, through delegation agreements between the federal government and the states. Granting licensing authority to the states would result in more efficient and less expensive licensing, but would still allow for thorough site-specific evaluations and solutions. Studies by the Department of Energy have identified literally hundreds of thousands of available sites for small-scale hydropower development. If fully developed, these projects could increase the U.S. annual hydropower generation by up to 200%. Without a regulatory change, the United States’ stated policy goal of promotion of renewable energy development, including small hydropower, will remain just that, a goal, and will struggle to become reality. This article provides crucial information and direction for options to facilitate the needed regulatory change and analyzes the benefits – both local and global – of such a change.

Keywords: hydropower, energy law, climate change

Suggested Citation

Warren, Gina S., Hydropower: It's a Small World after All (August 15, 2012). 91 Neb. L. Rev. 925 (2013). Available at SSRN:

Gina Warren (Contact Author)

University of Houston Law Center ( email )

Houston, TX 77003
United States


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