A hydropower renaissance | Don Brunell

When Grand Coulee Dam was completed in 1942, it was called the “Eighth Wonder of the Modern World.”

 

 

When Grand Coulee Dam was completed in 1942, it was called the “Eighth Wonder of the Modern World.” With its 151 mile-long reservoir and ability to produce 6,809 megawatts of electricity, no one could imagine a bigger or more powerful dam — and no one realized the scope of economic development that low-cost, reliable hydropower would create.

 

Actually someone did. China.

This year, China completed its gargantuan Three Gorges hydroelectric project with triple the power generation of Grand Coulee. The controversial project is the largest dam in the world. The Chinese government defends it and other proposed hydro projects as critical to curbing disastrous flooding on the Yangtze River and generating electricity needed to power China’s economic growth.

New mega dams are also planned on the Amazon and Mekong rivers. What’s behind this renaissance of hydropower?

First, hydropower produces no greenhouse gases and generates large amounts of electricity in one spot. The electricity produced by the Three Gorges Dam is equivalent to the output of 15 nuclear reactors. The comparison to wind and solar power is even more striking. It takes thousands of acres of wind turbines and solar panels to produce an equivalent stable supply of electricity and that generation occurs only when the wind blows or the sun shines.

Second, electricity powers manufacturing which, in turn, creates economic growth and family-wage jobs. Like wind and solar, it is clean energy but it is more reliable because water is stored behind the dams, available for use on demand.

In Peru, former President Alan Garcia believes his country can increase its electricity generation eight-fold by harnessing the tributaries to the Amazon River. In turn, Peru would use the power to expand its manufacturing and agriculture base and export a big chunk of that electricity to neighboring Brazil and Chile.

Peru is one of the world’s fastest-growing economies, averaging 6 percent GDP growth since the turn of the century. Garcia’s plan is to use energy, particularly electricity, to diversify its economy, spur investments in manufacturing, create jobs and increase wages.

Halfway across the world, the Laotian government is proposing a network of 11 dams on the lower Mekong River, similar to our Columbia and Snake River hydro network. China already has dams along the upper Mekong and is building more.

Laos’ centerpiece is the mammoth and controversial 1,260 megawatt Xayaburi dam on the lower reaches of the Mekong River. Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam say the dam violates a 1995 treaty for shared use and management of the Mekong River Basin. Still, Laos is pushing ahead because of the dam’s potential to spur economic growth.

We often overlook the importance of hydropower in our state. Roughly three-quarters of our electricity comes from our dams. Low-cost, reliable hydropower is the foundation of our state’s manufacturing sector, and it heats and lights schools, hospitals, nursing homes, office buildings and homes throughout the state. In fact, our hydropower advantage offsets other higher costs in Washington.

Even so, some people think we should remove the dams, particularly the four dams on the lower Snake River. But those dams are integral to our river transportation system, and they produce the electricity that pumps irrigation water into Eastern Washington vineyards, orchards and fields. Removing them will cripple our economy and kill jobs.

Unlike the controversial Xayaburi and Three Gorges dams, our Columbia and Snake River network did not cover millions of acres of farmlands and forest, nor did they displace millions of people. Over the years, we have learned to balance fisheries, flood control, power production, transportation and irrigation needs.

We should realize that we have what the rest of the world is seeking:  a reliable source of clean, affordable, renewable energy.

 

 

More in Business

Railroads implementing positive track

While the investigation continues into the deadly AMTRAK derailment near Dupont, the clock continues to tick on the implementation of Positive Track Control (PTC). The deadline is Dec. 31, 2018.

Keep the holiday spirit all year long | Don Brunell

During the holidays, our thoughts naturally turn to giving — not just giving gifts, but donating our time and money to charities, disasters and community programs.

Finding balance in occupational licensing

Recently, the Institute for Justice (Institute) determined state licensing barriers for lower-income workers and aspiring entrepreneurs not only hurts people trying to establish themselves in a profession, but annually drives consumer prices up by $203 billion.

Remember 1993

Twenty-five years ago, business took a beating in Olympia. The swing to the left in the 1992 general election was swift and potent. It drove higher costs to employers and more government regulations.

Remembering Ed Carlson, Vietnam POW

Since last Veteran’s Day, Ken Burns’ in-depth documentary on the Vietnam War has aired. It is a powerful reminder of an unpopular war in which many “baby boomers” fought and died.

Rural prosperity essential to Washington

While Seattle is growing rapidly, our rural areas continue to struggle. They don’t have the corporate giants such as Amazon, Microsoft and Boeing creating jobs and economic opportunities. Farms are predominantly family-owned.

Amazon’s plan reminiscent Boeing’s Chicago move

Last year, Seattle Times aerospace reporter Dominic Gates wrote about the similarities and differences between Boeing’s corporate office move to Chicago and Amazon’s plan for a second headquarters.

LiveLocal98022 meeting cancelled

Bob Green, the night’s speaker, notified the organization he couldn’t attend due to an illness.

Expanded Panama Canal among challenges for Washington Ports

The $5.4 billion spent to expand the Panama Canal is paying off for East Coast and Gulf of Mexico seaports; however, it is putting more pressure on the Northwest to remain competitive.

Players taking a knee hurting the NFL | Don Brunell

On a recent Saturday afternoon in Portland, a young woman stepped onto the playing field at the beginning of the University of Montana vs Portland State football game and started singing our national anthem. She immediately drew a blank on the words and briefly stopped, but as she started apologizing, the fans spontaneously took up the singing.

New metal collecting machine may clean up contaminated waters

There is a new machine being tested in Montana which could decontaminate toxic mine tailings while recovering valuable precious minerals for everyday use.

Workshop will focus on business, social media

All are invited to learn how social media can impact business and how it can be used to create a positive experience for customers.