Mark Twain is credited with having said, “Whiskey is for drinking, and water is for fighting.” Perhaps this saying is coming true as we in Eastern Washington struggle to help the rest of our great state realize the value and great benefit we have in our hydropower system.
Bipartisan support exists in Washington, D.C., for more hydroelectric power, but not in our own Washington Legislature. This is distressing for a state that leads the nation in the use of clean, renewable hydroelectric power.
In Olympia, this legislative session, bills were introduced that would have recognized the value of getting more hydropower from efficiency upgrades at facilities like Grand Coulee Dam for utilities to comply with the Energy Independence Act (Initiative 937). But, unfortunately, those bills were defeated in Olympia along party lines. If this lack of bipartisan support for hydropower continues, more than 1.3 million Washington electricity consumers will be paying more for their power than they should as the full impact of I-937 requirements begin to be reflected in customer bills. All of these 1.3 million residents of Washington should acknowledge the efforts of Rep. Shelly Short, R-Addy, and many of her colleagues who supported the bills (HB 1347, SB 5412) to count federal hydropower efficiency upgrades as renewable energy.
As you may have read in the March 15 Spokesman-Review editorial, the good news from the other Washington is that the U.S. Congress, with support from both House and Senate Republicans and Democrats, is clearly supportive of legislation to increase America’s hydropower capacity to expand clean, renewable power sources.
In Eastern Washington, we can thank Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers for sponsoring the Hydropower Regulatory Efficiency Act of 2013. That important piece of legislation overwhelmingly passed in the House of Representatives. This bill will allow small hydro facilities to be added to existing dams in Washington and other states where there are thousands of existing dams that are not producing hydroelectric power. With bipartisan support from senators in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Alaska and other states, the companion bill in the Senate will hopefully pass soon and then be signed into law.
You ask how could legislation supporting use of more clean renewable hydropower from existing dams, not new dams, fail to get support in Washington state. One of the answers lies in the fact that many Washington residents and elected officials no longer see the full value of the region’s hydroelectric facilities and the key role they play in providing reliable, affordable and renewable energy.
In recent years, hydropower has faded into the background of the public’s awareness. The kind of understanding and appreciation for the tremendous economic and environmental values of the hydro resource simply isn’t what it once was. We all need to work to change that.
Also, there is strong advocacy for new wind and solar resources in Olympia. Although these new intermittent sources have a role, they should not be allowed to step ahead of the continued and expanded use of our hydropower facilities. Along with strong energy conservation efforts, we need a mix of resources with hydropower continuing to perform the essential role it always has in Washington. The electric consumers and citizens of Washington should demand no less.
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