The Value of Hydro
Reliable renewable energy? Hydro power has the Northwest covered.
Most conversations about renewable energy these days focus on solar panels, wind turbines and how energy policy will shape the future of America’s electricity generation and consumption.
WREC members, however, have had their homes and businesses powered by renewable energy long before it became a hot topic. When the lights in Wells illuminated for the first time, they were energized with hydroelectric power generated by the Trout Creek hydro facility. Today, more than 80 percent of the power WREC receives is generated hydroelectrically by the Bonneville Power Administration’s network of dams in the Pacific Northwest.
While hydro is not a new technology, it is still one of the best. The effectiveness of solar panels ebbs and flows according to available sunlight, and wind turbines are dependent on ideal wind conditions, but hydropower makes for a great anchor power supply to other renewable generation because the flow of the river provides consistent power to meet load demands.
Hydropower and the Northwest river system have many other benefits.
- Hydropower is capable of converting 94 percent of available energy into electricity, making it the most efficient form of electricity generation. By comparison, wind turbines are about 33 percent efficient.
- Northwest dams produce 14,000 megawatts every year under normal precipitation. That’s enough to power more than 11 Seattlesized cities every year.
- Sixty percent of the Northwest region’s power is provided by hydro.
- The Northwest river system provides 100,000 jobs.
- Each year, Northwest rivers irrigate 7.8 million acres of farmland.
- About 700,000 trucks are kept off Northwest highways by barging each year. The fuel efficiency for barges is 576 tonmiles per gallon, compared to 413 tonmiles by rail and 155 tonmiles by truck.
- Hydroelectricity produces zero carbon emissions.
- In 1996, the dam system saved Portland from approximately $3.2 billion in flood damage.
- Hydropower accounts for 90 percent of the Northwest’s renewable energy.
- Fortytwo million tons of commercial cargo—$20 billion worth—travels the Columbia and Snake rivers each year.
- Of every dollar WREC members pay, 33 cents goes to wildlife mitigation.
- The average fish survival rate at dams is 97 percent.