Steve Wright is general manager for Chelan County Public Utility District in North Central Washington. He has had a 38-year career in the Pacific Northwest energy industry, including 32 years at the BPA, the last 12 years as Administrator/CEO. He joined Chelan PUD in 2013.
Suzanne Grassell is government affairs program manager for Chelan County Public Utility District. She joined the utility’s hydropower licensing team in 2002. She specializes in hydropower public policy. She currently serves on the Board of the National Hydropower Association.
If you haven't given much thought to hydropower's role in the nation's electric generation mix, you're not alone. As our country's oldest renewable generating resource, hydropower doesn't get a lot of credit for the reliability benefits it brings to the grid or the low-cost, carbon free power it delivers to customers.
With most of the largest U.S. hydropower projects built between the 1930s and 1980s, there seems to be a national consensus that these long-lived resources won't change much and will always be here.
As utility leaders in hydro-rich Washington state, we are challenging this assumption and suggesting six proactive strategies for reinvigorating hydropower. Action will be necessary to preserve and enhance hydropower in order to achieve aggressive goals for deep reductions in carbon emissions in the electric sector and beyond.
But, first, some background. Hydropower provides about seven percent of the nation's electric generating mix. In some regions, these numbers are much greater, with about fifty-six percent of electric generation from hydropower in the Northwest, and seventy percent in Washington state.