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Reinvigorating Hydropower

In 2019, Chelan County Public Utility District (PUD) took an important step in support of hydropower, the largest generator of renewable energy in the United States. The North Central Washington utility teamed up with the National Hydropower Association to release a report, “Reinvigorating Hydropower,” aimed at bolstering the energy resource in the coming decades.

The report emphasizes hydropower’s role in keeping the grid reliable. As demand for carbon-free resources grows, it’s also a strategic partner with wind and solar to achieve environmental goals and optimize the electrical grid. Hydropower, the report highlights, is a premier renewable energy resource in terms of both cost and carbon reduction.

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There are many opportunities with increased interest around the country in clean electricity, and at the same time there are a lot of challenges in terms of markets and policies related to hydropower. With the adoption of equitable and smart policies, hydropower provides the best generation pathway to an affordable, reliable and clean electric power system necessary to accomplish deep, economy-wide decarbonization.

Unfortunately, the report acknowledges, hydropower has been taken for granted for too long in the public policy arena.

“Hydropower is the backbone of the nation’s electrical system,” said Linda Church Ciocci, Executive Director of the National Hydropower Association. “However, for it to flourish, policymakers must breathe new life into the policies that are holding it back, and it starts with recognizing the true value of hydropower. This report is a call to action to begin that important discussion.”

The paper makes a call to action, identifying several recommendations, covering a range of issues including market design, public policy and regulatory processes.

In an upcoming episode of the Energy Central Power Perspectives Podcast, Steve Wright expands on these recommendations and reinforces hydropower’s role as one of our nation’s key energy resources.

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Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Mar 16, 2021

Unfortunately, the report acknowledges, hydropower has been taken for granted for too long in the public policy arena.

This rings true. Hydopower is ever-reliable, is renewable energy, and even serves as energy storage: that's everything we're looking for from the future of the power generation mix. But because there isn't naturally an availability to 'scale' higher without the geographic resources, it doesn't get the spotlight enough-- but there are ways that we can indeed increase the output from hydropower using modernization tools.

Excited to share the podcast on this topic with Steve, stay tuned next week hydropower fans!

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Mar 16, 2021

Steve, as you're probably aware "renewable" is an arbitrary marketing term without basis in physics. In California, it's useful for promoting wind and solar power while denying nuclear energy its rightful place in meeting carbon goals.

What you may not know is that large hydropower is not renewable in California, either. That's right - rainwater and snowmelt that feeds mountain streams, that flows downhill to reservoirs, using energy derived only from the sun, has been deemed non-renewable by the same financial interests that seek to shut down nuclear plants - solar, wind, and natural gas.

Without hesitation, those who understand the threat of climate change support both hydropower and nuclear energy, They know that in Brazil 77% of electricity is produced by hydropower without any carbon emissions; they know in France 75% of electricity is produced by carbon-free nuclear energy. They know the bulk of money that changes hands in energy circles, however, comes not from sales of electricity but of the fuel and/or machinery used to generate it. Hydropower and nuclear, despite large initial investments, generate lots and lots of clean energy thereafter requiring little (or none) of either.

"With the adoption of equitable and smart policies...hydropower provides the best generation pathway to an affordable, reliable and clean electric power system necessary to accomplish deep, economy-wide decarbonization."

Of primary importance is the need to distinguish equitable and smart policies for economic growth from those needed to fight climate change. Policy that aims to increase jobs and consumption while protecting the environment, as does the "Green New Deal", is ultimately self-defeating.

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Jim Stack on Mar 17, 2021

Hydro Power is a great resource. In Switzerland and other European countries they use the power of water 3 to 5 times as it travels down mountains. It doesn't create deadly waste like Nuclear does and can even be stored and released as needed.  I live in Arizona which is a desert in a 20 year Mega drought. Yet the 7 large Hydro dams we have produce day and night and have for 100 years. I just wish they would upgrade them so they could produce 50% more energy.

     In FACT the Roosevelt Dam is celebrating 110 years of clean energy.  Remember this is in a desert !!!   Here is an article on their Hydro 


1.       Talk about horsepower! Which dam produces the most hydroelectricity? Horse Mesa Dam, which has three conventional hydroelectric generating units that can produce a total of 32,000 kilowatts (kW) and one pumped storage hydroelectric unit added in 1972 that can generate 97,000 kW.

2.       Which dam produces no hydroelectricity? Horseshoe Dam, which is on the Verde River and was built during World War II. It is the only earthen dam on the SRP system.

3.       Which dam was the first to be completed on the SRP system? Granite Reef Diversion Dam — Granite Reef Diversion Dam was a lifeline to Phoenix-area residents enduring the unusually wet years in the Valley during Roosevelt Dam construction. It was built in 1908 after the devastating collapse in 1905 of the rock-and-stick dam on the Arizona Canal.

4.       How was construction of the Roosevelt Dam funded? Landowners put their land up as collateral to secure a loan from the federal government — Land mortgaged to fund the dam obtained water rights that are still administered today as irrigation water delivered by SRP. Water rights belong to the land and transfer with the property.

5.       What year was Roosevelt Dam dedicated? 1911 — Completed in 1910, Roosevelt

Dam was dedicated on March 18, 1911, by former President Theodore Roosevelt.

6.       Before Roosevelt Dam could be built, a road leading to the remote dam site had to be built. That road was called: The Apache Trail

7.       The dam closest to Phoenix is: Granite Reef Diversion Dam — Granite Reef Diversion Dam is just 29 miles from the Valley and serves as the meeting point, or confluence, of the Verde and Salt rivers. Granite Reef diverts water to SRP’s northside and southside canals and has the ability to deliver water from the Central Arizona Project (CAP) into SRP’s canals using an underground, uphill interconnection.

8.       Which dam is on East Clear Creek and funnels water into the East Verde River? C.C. Cragin Dam — Water is pumped vertically 435 feet from C.C. Cragin Dam into a pipeline. It then flows 11 miles before emptying into the headwaters of the East Verde River.

9.       Which dam is not on the Salt River? Horseshoe Dam — Horseshoe Dam is named for the horseshoe-shaped bend in the Verde River at the dam site. Dams on the Salt River are: Roosevelt Dam, Horse Mesa Dam, Mormon Flat Dam, Stewart Mountain Dam and Granite Reef Diversion Dam

10.   Which of these dams is not on the Verde River? C.C. Cragin Dam (formerly known as Blue Ridge Reservoir) — C.C. Cragin Dam, formerly known as Blue Ridge Reservoir, was renamed in 2004 after SRP's general superintendent in the 1920s and 1930s. Cragin is remembered for his vision of using SRP's water management system to generate hydroelectric power. He was responsible for investigating sites on the Salt River that became Mormon Flat, Horse Mesa and Stewart Mountain dams.

Nathan Wilson's picture
Nathan Wilson on Mar 20, 2021

Hydropower is better than fossil fuel, but it still much worse for the environment and has proven to be much more dangerous than nuclear power.  That so-called "deadly nuclear waste" has never harmed anyone, yet failures of hydro dams have killed tens of thousands of people.

Here is a list of dam failures.

Dams also disrupt aquatic ecosystems; they greatly increase humanities environmental footprint.  The dams we have in the US were mostly built to provide a water supply for agriculture and municipal use, with electricity as a bonus.  We should not be building more just for electricity; as we have a less impactful way to make electricity.  The available hydro resource is small; hydro currently supplies only about 6% of our electricity.  Up-rates at existing dams can increase their peak output capacity, but this does not substantially increase total annual generation (which is limited by the available water).

We've known how to build a safe and affordable decarbonized grid for decades around nuclear power with a modest contribution from hydro; in fact this is only the combination that has been used in the real world to decarbonize a major grid (unlike solar and wind, which serve to make fossil fuel more valuable for their flexibility).  If we over-build our nuclear fleets (so we have excess clean energy for many hours of the year), we can reduce our need for hydro power, and use the excess for clean fuel production as well.  The only thing standing in our way is mis-information, ignorance, and pro-fossil fuel industry influence.

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