We love talking about solar. We get to do it every day. But it’s pretty hard to stay “little picture” when discussing solar with a homeowner or a corporate sustainability executive. Eventually, conversations about renewable energy in Washington and Oregon hit a “big-picture moment,” and we end up talking about the Pacific Northwest’s favorite energy superstar: hydroelectricity.
The good news is that hydro is a fascinating subject. After all, Washington and Oregon rank first and second in hydroelectricity production, and the combined energy output from dams in the Columbia River Basin produces nearly half of the country’s hydro in certain years (you’ll find more hydro stats than you can shake a stick at here and here).
But with every pro hydro argument, there’s a con right around the riverbend:
- Some are thrilled that their energy comes from a clean source (pro).
- Others are concerned climate change will upset the precipitation patterns hydro relies on (con).
- We have some of the biggest dams in the world (pro)!
- Many of those hydro facilities are more than 60 years old (con).
- Dams help control river flows and provide steady sources of irrigation to our states’ agriculture industry (pro).
- Dams also impede salmon spawning and could even be leading to Orca starvation (really sad con).
The “cons” of hydro aren’t just skepticism. They’ve recently been earning some serious scientific critiques. Washington State University’s landmark research shows dams contribute significantly more to greenhouse gases than previously thought. Other emerging studies — including Seattle City Light’s own 117-page Climate Change Vulnerability Assessment and Adaptation Plan — focus on the unknown stability of snowpack. For a utility that generates 90 percent of its energy from hydro, this is a really big con. No water? No hydro. Big problem.
At A&R Solar, we pride ourselves on being solar energy experts. But when it comes to hydro, we simply don’t have all the answers. So we’re surfacing “The Future of Hydro” as a discussion topic for our community of intelligent energy advocates.
Help us think up the hard questions about the future of hydro. You ask the questions. We’ll do the research and bring back some answers. Join us on Facebook and submit your question about the future of hydro today.