There are few things — if any — we hold dearer in the Pacific Northwest than a clean, healthy environment. Our state has taken great care to protect the air, water and land through the generations, which is evident in our state’s extremely low carbon footprint and the pristine landscape we all appreciate.
The Pacific Northwest region’s clean-energy portfolio, most notably hydropower generated through the Columbia-Snake river dam system, is a critical part of ensuring Washington is a low-carbon emissions leader in the nation and the world.
The Columbia-Snake river dam system laid the foundation of our strong state economy. Low-cost hydropower is a key competitive advantage for our region. It drives industry, the creation of family wage jobs and powers the booming high-tech sector that is filling the central Puget Sound’s urban centers.
The investment — and continued investment in improvements — in hydroelectric power generation has transformed our region.
It transformed the landscape into one of the most agriculturally productive regions in the world. And, it is a vital transportation waterway to barge hundreds of Washington goods, including 60 percent of Washington’s wheat harvest, worth billions to the state economy, to West Coast ports to ship to markets around the world.
Disappointingly, there are ongoing discussions by some groups to arbitrarily remove the Columbia-Snake river dams. They say the move is necessary to protect fish and wildlife habitat. Before that extreme, economy-changing step is considered, there are a few points — aside from our reliance on clean, low-cost energy produced by the dams — that must also be part of the discussion.
First, over the past several years, many improvements have been made to the dams to better support fish migration. In January 2014, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) confirmed that improvements at federal dams on the Columbia and Snake rivers, rehabilitation of habitat, and other actions are benefiting federally protected salmon and steelhead as much as, or more than, anticipated.
Most notably, proper fish ladders were installed to ensure healthy migration of salmon and other fish to spawning grounds up river. NOAA continues to keep an eye on the success of these upgrades.
Second, the dams’ hydropower generation isn’t just “extra energy” on our power grid; it’s 40 percent of our region’s baseload power. It’s there day-in and day-out so we can turn our lights on, charge our smart phones and wash our clothes, and even power our electric vehicles. It’s reliable, clean, 24/7 energy that no other energy source, besides nuclear, in this region offers today.
To remove the dams, we need to have a broader conversation about energy consumption and what means would be needed to replace that baseload power immediately. Wind and solar are part of the solution, for sure, but technology simply isn’t to the point where we can store those sources in bulk for use later or as a reliable source of baseload energy.
That leads me to my last point: We care about the environment.
Washington’s employers and families have done a great job of protecting that shared value. If we’re not getting our energy from our low-carbon Columbia-Snake river dam system, we may be forced to import energy that is derived from other sources that have a large carbon footprint to meet the growing needs of Washington’s economy. That simply doesn’t align with our values.
Today, with key modernizations, our Columbia-Snake river dams provide for healthy fish runs and clean energy to power homes, cars and industry, and support recreation that makes the region a great place to live, work and raise a family. It’s a balance we should celebrate and endeavor to continue for generations to come.
Kris Johnson is the president of the Association of Washington Business, the state’s chamber of commerce and designated manufacturing association.