BRUNELL: Hydropower is key to Washington’s economic future and well being

Ever since the generators at the Grand Coulee Dam started spinning in 1942, low-cost hydropower has been the key to our economic strength and way of life.

Ever since the generators at the Grand Coulee Dam started spinning in 1942, low-cost hydropower has been the key to our economic strength and way of life.

During World War II, its abundance enriched uranium at Hanford produced aluminum for Boeing’s bombers, built Navy vessels at Kaiser’s shipyard in Vancouver and provided plenty of affordable heat and light for our homes, schools and hospitals.

That low-cost water power comes from the Columbia-Snake River System. While dams present a challenge to salmon runs — many of which have been successfully addressed — hydropower is a clean, affordable, renewable energy source that produces no carbon dioxide.

It has been a key reason Boeing, pulp mills, refineries and other manufacturers flourish here, creating family-wage jobs for generations.

And its low-cost, reliable electricity is vital to keeping cutting-edge semiconductor manufacturers like WaferTech in Camas and solar manufacturers such as REC in Moses Lake — all of which have huge electricity requirements.

More recently, “greenhouse gas-free” hydropower was the primary incentive cited by German manufacturers SGL and BMW in their decision to locate a $100 million carbon fiber plant in Moses Lake. Lightweight carbon fibers — one-tenth the size of a human hair — are stronger than steel and lighter than aluminum but, like both metals, require enormous amounts of electricity to produce.

Carbon fiber is the perfect material to build battery-powered cars, such as BMW’s Megacity electric car set to debut in 2015. Just as carbon composites are the basic component in the next generation of airplanes, they are rapidly becoming the preferred material for future cars.

Why would those German companies ship raw materials 5,000 miles from Japan to Moses Lake to process into fibers and then send them another 5,000 miles to Germany to be fabricated into car parts?

It is because low-cost electricity is available in Grant County from Wanapum and Priest Rapids dams on the mid-Columbia River. That’s how important affordable energy is in today’s global marketplace.

In announcing the Moses Lake project, BMW’s chief financial officer, Dr. Friedrich Eichiner, told business leaders, “The energy demand from producing carbon fiber will come from environmentally friendly hydropower.”

If hydropower is environmentally friendly, why isn’t it considered renewable energy in our state? Dam opponents who drafted I-937 a few years ago intentionally omitted electricity produced at dams from the types of energy utilities could use to meet their renewable energy requirements.

Even today, legislators still rebuff attempts to include hydropower as a renewable energy source under the law. Why?

Why do those who want to remove the four lower Snake River dams wrongly claim the lost power can be replaced by wind and solar? Where will they find another “greenhouse gas-free” source of electricity that is equivalent to lighting Portland?

Why are they intensifying their efforts to further restrict the generating capacity of the Columbia River from the Chief Joseph Dam to the ocean?

Executives with SGL and BMW could clearly see the advantages of Washington’s hydropower from Germany 5,000 miles away, but our own legislators cannot. Perhaps, they need an additional shove from the governor who stood with those CEOs at the Seattle press conference on April 6.

A healthy economy runs on abundant, affordable energy. To succeed, we will need a diverse and reliable supply of electricity, including hydro, wind, solar, nuclear, clean coal and natural gas plants.

Washington must be in a position to attract employers like SGL and BMW and keep companies like Boeing, Longview Fibre and WaferTech. In a state where the cost of doing business is high, a reliable supply of affordable energy is the key to our future.

Don Brunell is the president of the Association of Washington Business. For more about AWB, visit www.awb.org.

More in Opinion

America is denying three hard truths

There are three major hard truths that our current government has been denying with great vigor: The Mueller Russia-U.S. Presidential election connection investigation, the war in Afghanistan, and the growing national deficit.

Promote the common good by ensuring individual liberty

Citizens following their passions and dreams improve the lot for all.

The three personas of President Trump

There’s Teleprompter Trump, Raw Meat Trump and Twitter Trump.

Carbon pricing won’t help environment, but will hurt taxpayers

How would a Washington carbon tax make a difference in the world “climate?”

It’s never enough

Based on numbers from the legislature, Enumclaw School District will be receiving huge funding increases from the state. Yet here we are with Enumclaw and a bunch of other districts telling the taxpayers, give us more, we need more.

Why are trailers allowed at Expo Center?

When my husband and I moved to our home in 2001 and for every year after the Expo Center grounds have always been pleasant to look at on your way to our home. No longer is this true.

Columnist sheds light on Koch brothers

Our economy, along with our political system, is broken and indeed destroying our democracy.

Letter writer cites no evidence for claims

“Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.”

Attitudes change on farming non-native salmon

Their warnings fell on deaf ears, but the tables have turned on the fish farming industry in Washington.

Humility allows for tolerance of other’s opinions

Each of us has grown up in different circumstances. Each has been shaped by our life experiences. Each of us sees the world around us differently as a result. Why, then, should it be so difficult to understand that no two people will agree on every issue?

President Trump working toward the vision of our Founders

President Trump is working to return power and liberty to the people.

Culture, politics have and continue to shape race relations

“The central conservative truth is that it is culture, not politics, that determines the success of a society. The central liberal truth is that politics can change a culture and save it from itself.”