August 24th is National Hydropower Day. Hydropower has been providing clean electric energy for over 130 years and is America’s original renewable energy source. Our country has more than 83,000 dams that provide a variety of benefits including flood risk reduction, water supply, navigation, recreation and hydroelectric power. Despite this high number of dams, only about 2,500 generate hydroelectricity—a mere 3% of the total. These non-powered dams represent an incredible opportunity.
In the past year, two major pieces of legislation have authorized hundreds of billions of dollars for climate change adaptation and mitigation: the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) and the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA). Both of these laws have significant provisions for dams and hydroelectric power. I have previously written about the IIJA provisions, as well as where to find detailed information about specific programs. The National Hydropower Association (NHA) has examined the newly-signed Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) and published a press release discussing it.
Don’t Overlook Hydropower
Although hydropower is benefiting from the major push for green, clean, renewable energy, the very large upfront capital costs and environmental concerns make new dams very difficult to permit, finance, and build. However, existing dams have already overcome these impediments and are a viable option for new hydropower. In 2012, the Oak Ridge National Laboratory analyzed existing dams nationwide and determined the potential power generation at non-powered dams would be up to 12 GW—enough to power 4.8 million homes. This potential still exists today. Just a few of the many benefits of hydropower include:
- Hydropower is proven and reliable. Because it can quickly go from zero power to maximum output, it provides essential back-up, especially for variable wind and solar generation as well as peaking power for high-load periods.
- Hydropower provides energy storage. Pumped storage hydropower is America’s water battery, representing 93% of the nation’s energy storage.
- Hydropower is a major job creator. The U.S. hydropower industry employs approximately 66,000 workers.
- Hydropower plays a role in protecting our natural environment. Throughout the country, hydropower operators are working with communities to protect wildlife, enhance environmental protections, and enhance the health and vitality of our rivers and lakes, and the aquatic life that resides within them.
While it is often overlooked by other, newer sources of clean energy, hydropower is nonetheless a vital component of a cleaner, renewable energy future. So, in celebration of National Hydropower Day, I encourage all of you to engage representatives at the local, state, and federal levels to pass legislation that addresses America’s clean energy needs.