Washington Times Op-Ed: U.S. hydropower: Room to grow in renewable energy production and water storage
For millennia, humankind has harnessed the power of water. The ancient Romans developed the earliest water wheels to grind grain into flour. In modern times, hydropower emerged as an affordable, clean, and reliable source of renewable energy. Advancing the development of hydroelectricity generation as well as increasing water storage capacity should be a national priority in the interest of American energy independence and drought mitigation.
Hydropower allows my home state of Washington to enjoy status as a clean energy producer. Located on the Columbia River in my congressional district in Central Washington, the Grand Coulee Dam is the largest hydroelectric power producer in the U.S. and the sixth largest in the world. The dam has a total rated capacity of 6,809 megawatts, enough to power 2.3 million households.
Nearly 7 percent of Washington’s energy is derived from hydropower sources like Grand Coulee, and the state is the country’s largest producer of this critical renewable energy source. The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) calculates that the entire Columbia River Basin generates 40 percent of total U.S. hydroelectric capacity. According to the Department of Energy, 80 percent of the state’s renewable energy production, about 656,000 billion BTUs, is derived from hydropower.
Washingtonians also happen to pay some of the lowest energy costs. For energy used by the residential, commercial, industrial and transportation sectors, Washingtonians pay only 8 cents per kilowatt hour, according to the EIA. This is less than all but four other states and well below the national average of 10.15 cents per kilowatt hour.
For families and small businesses in Washington, lower energy bills translate to real savings that help fuel the state’s growing economy and increasing population.
There is much room to grow to develop American hydropower. In 2012, the Department of Energy (DOE) found that adding power generation capability to the existing non-powered dams would add as much as 12 gigawatts of new energy capacity. A 2014 DOE report called the “Hydropower Vision Framework” found that U.S. hydropower production could increase more than 50 percent in combined electricity generation and storage capacity by 2050 while focusing on new technologies and environmental sustainability.
I am working with my colleagues, Rep. Doug Lamborn, Colorado Republican, and Cathy McMorris Rodgers, Washington Republican, on H.R. 1967, the Bureau of Reclamation Pumped Storage Hydropower Development Act, to simplify the permitting process for non-federal hydropower projects.
Currently, these projects are subject to review by both the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and the Bureau of Reclamation. This legislation would promote development by ensuring that a single agency oversees applications in order to reduce duplication and confusion.
The benefits of water infrastructure projects go beyond energy to include flood control, navigation, recreation, irrigation and water storage.
In dry states in the West, the combined benefits are incalculable. As a third-generation farmer whose family’s livelihood has depended on access to water through irrigation, I understand the importance of robust water infrastructure.
I plan to introduce legislation in Congress to authorize a key phase of the Yakima River Basin Integrated Water Resource Management Plan. The Yakima Basin plan is a model for the nation, in terms of collaboration between residential, agricultural, conservationist and tribal stakeholders — groups that don’t always share common goals. My hope is that the Yakima Basin project will serve as a national example of collaborative water infrastructure development.
There is a catch to water-storage infrastructure development, however: It can take years of planning and environmental reviews for new projects to gain approval. Permitting delays and red tape can drag on interminably. That is why I have introduced H.R. 875, Bureau of Reclamation Water Project Streamlining Act of 2017, to expedite the pace of the Bureau of Reclamation’s environmental planning and study process for new water projects.
There is room to grow in developing one of the oldest and cleanest domestic natural sources of renewable energy, as well as to store it for agricultural and other critical uses. As a new member of the House Appropriations Committee’s Energy and Water Subcommittee, which has jurisdiction over the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Bureau of Reclamation, I am committed to advocating for hydropower as one of the most affordable — and underutilized — sources of energy that our country is capable of expanding in order to provide more clean, renewable power.
• Republican Rep. Dan Newhouse represents Washington’s 4th Congressional District.