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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Hydropower is ready to step up to the plate against summer heat

Sponsored content provided by Northwest RiverPartners

Summer is nearly here and the Northwest has sprung to life as the days have grown longer and warmer. It’s an exciting time for many of us as we break free from the cold grip of winter.

But in the past few years, we’ve experienced increasingly extreme weather. Hotter, drier conditions during the summer have started earlier and lasted longer, with multiple “heat dome” events leading to record-breaking temperatures across the region. Uncomfortable as it may be, comfort is really the least of our concerns. The risk of these extremes to public health and our economy is real.

Among the top concerns for the millions of people living in the Northwest is the looming threat of an energy shortage that results in blackouts. While we’d like to think it wouldn’t—or couldn’t—happen here, the truth is that we’ve come too close for comfort.

It was just a few months ago when the region was faced with the winter version of such a threat. The weekend of Martin Luther King Jr. Day in January saw frigid temperatures and treacherous conditions, with ice blanketing many communities. Some places saw temperatures near or well below 0 degrees Fahrenheit, with dangerous windchill making it feel much colder.

Make no mistake, keeping the power on is always a necessity, particularly for vulnerable people who depend on reliable electricity­ to power medical devices without interruption. But being able to simply keep homes warm during the prolonged cold snap was also vital and achieving that was no easy feat.

Wind and solar generation dropped to near zero during that storm, and an equipment failure impacted our use of natural gas, as energy demand soared to levels not seen in 20 years. Luckily, the Northwest was able to rely on the backbone of our grid: hydropower.

On any given year, hydroelectric dams churn out around half the energy that supplies Northwest communities with a clean, reliable, affordable source of power.

Furthermore, dams have the unique ability of storing their fuel source—water—to release at a moment’s notice to perfectly balance supply and demand on the grid. This also means that when necessary, hydropower operators can flex the capabilities of the dams to meet the immediate needs of the people and businesses in the communities that depend on that energy.


That’s exactly what took place in January as well as recent summers, and without our Northwest hydropower, we may have found ourselves with a troubling situation.

But access to energy isn’t just about whether we have enough of it. If the cost of that energy is too burdensome, low-income and disadvantaged residents are hit even harder.

In the Northwest, we enjoy some of the lowest energy rates in the nation as a direct result of our access to hydropower. While spikes in energy usage like we saw in January can lead to higher bills, the low cost of hydropower acts as a buffer against exorbitant costs that many of our neighbors simply can’t afford.

While cold snaps and heat waves represent opposite ends of the extreme weather spectrum, they both strain our grid with increased demand for energy and present life-threatening conditions.

That is why, as we head into the warmer summer months, hydropower will continue to be essential to our region. And contrary to flashy headlines, it isn’t going to dry up. As energy forecasters warn of dramatically increased demand and as we retire coal-fired power plants to meet new climate policies, hydropower is more important than ever.

We’re grateful in the Northwest to find power in clean, affordable, reliable water. But hydropower needs more than our gratitude. It needs our support and advocacy to ensure we continue to have access to the multitude of benefits it provides.

And hopefully, in turn, we can spend the summers ahead worrying about bug bites and campsite reservations rather than energy shortages and expensive bills.


About Northwest RiverPartners
Northwest RiverPartners is a member-driven organization that serves not-for-profit, community-owned electric utilities in Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana, Utah, Nevada and Wyoming. For more information, visit