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CleanHydro highlights hydropower and river values

This spring, you might see advertisements on TV and in newspapers that showcase something that has been a part of the Northwest way of life for over 75 years, yet is often overlooked: how hydropower dams and the incredible power of the Northwest’s Columbia and Snake Rivers benefit our daily lives.

This public education effort, called CleanHydro, is being coordinated by Northwest RiverPartners, an alliance of utilities, ports and farming organizations that advocates for a balanced approach to managing the federal hydropower system on the Columbia and Snake Rivers. We at Columbia River People’s Utility District are members of Northwest RiverPartners, and are proud to be supporting this effort.

In recent years, hydropower has faded into the background of the public’s awareness. Today few Northwesterners understand and appreciate the tremendous economic and environmental values provided by the hydropower system.

The reasons for this are twofold. First, the demographics of the Northwest have changed as people moved into the Northwest from other parts of the country. While hydropower provides 60 percent of the electricity used in the Northwest, nationwide we rely on coal and natural gas for the majority of our electricity generation. Hydropower just isn’t something many people are familiar with, and younger generations aren’t learning much about it in school.

Second, the energy industry has changed dramatically in recent years. We’ve seen huge growth in other renewable sources of energy, particularly wind power. While this has played prominently in the media, hydropower has been overlooked. This has given rise to a perception that these newer technologies are the only renewables out there.

But did you know that hydropower accounts for 90 percent of the Northwest’s renewable energy?

Hydropower keeps our air clean; it doesn’t burn any fossil fuels and keeps our carbon footprint about half that of other parts of the country.

Hydropower has another big advantage for Northwest residents: it’s amazingly affordable. As a region we pay some of the lowest electricity rates in the nation, and that savings is due in large part to clean, renewable hydropower. As a PUD customer, about 80 percent of the electricity you use is generated at hydroelectric dams, and you pay electric rates that are about 42 percent below the average rates charged by utilities throughout the United States. Hydropower is a big reason for that savings.

The CleanHydro effort will bring this message directly to millions of households through television, with ads running in almost all of western Washington and Oregon, as well as a significant portion of eastern parts of both states.

Our hydropower campaign will also highlight the other benefits that hydropower and the Columbia and Snake River commerce system brings to the Northwest, namely transporting billions of dollars of agricultural and other products out to the world, employing thousands of people and providing flood control that protects our towns and cities.

CleanHydro is about re-joining the conversation and bringing hydropower back into the mainstream dialogue. It’s about reminding people of the tremendous energy, economic and environmental benefits these resources bring to their everyday lives. We’re telling our story to help people appreciate our hydropower system and understand why it makes the Northwest the envy of the rest of the country.

I hope you’ll take a moment to visit CleanHydro.com, which features the advertisements and other information about the Northwest’s hydropower and river system.

We have a great story to tell. I’m proud that we’re part of it and I hope you’ll join this conversation.

Kevin P. Owens, P.E., is general manager of the

Columbia River PUD.