For years, hydropower was viewed as an antiquated and tapped-out resource. Even here, in Washington state, it did not qualify for the voter-approved clean energy initiative, I-937. But all of that is starting to change.
Prior to adjourning for their August recess Thursday night, Congress did something unheard of these days, without much fanfare. They unanimously agreed.
The U.S. Senate passed two bills that will help unleash more of the available, reliable and domestic renewable energy resource that is hydropower. Both measures already passed the House and the president is now expected to sign the bills.
The legislation is the culmination of three years of work. It was first conceived in early 2010 by a small collaborative group that included American Rivers, a leading conservation organization working to protect and restore the nation’s rivers and streams, and the hydropower industry. It demonstrates a commitment to our environment and sustainable energy development.
This is the beginning of a hydropower renaissance. The United States is poised to continue turning water into good American jobs, economic growth, greater energy independence and a clean, sustainable future.
When I took on the duties as president of the National Hydropower Association in 2009, we commissioned a jobs study, which found that U.S. hydropower capacity could nearly double and create 1.4 million jobs here in the United States.
Our analysis uncovered another important data point: Of the 80,000 dams across the United States, only 3 percent have hydroelectric generation. Just 3 percent.
Oak Ridge National Laboratory and the U.S. Department of Energy released a study that examined some of the 97 percent of dams that don’t yet generate renewable power. The study found that the United States could boost its hydropower generating capacity by 12,000 megawatts — a 15 percent jump, no new dams required.
For generations, the power of clean, moving water has served our farms, families and businesses.
But here’s the key: The issue is not whether hydro is renewable. We all know that it is. The issue is whether hydropower has anything more to contribute.
The answer is a resounding yes.
Andrew Munro is director of the customer service division at Grant County PUD and served as the president and chairman of the board of the National Hydropower Association from 2009-11.