Making Hydroelectric Power Renewable Again

It might surprise you to learn that hydroelectric power is not renewable energy. Well, it’s not considered renewable in Oregon, anyway. Despite the fact that the engine of electricity production literally falls from the sky – at a higher than average rate for the United States.  Due to bureaucratic nonsense, hydroelecric power cannot be applied to the state’s mandate to produce 25% of its power from renewable resources. Luckily, a plucky group of citizens has picked up on this anomaly and is attempting to correct the problem.

Background: in 2007, Oregon’s legislature passed a measure that mandates large utilities provide electricity from ‘renewable’ sources. From Pacific Power’s website:

Requirements for renewable energy

To promote the development of new renewable resources and decrease reliance on fossil fuels for electricity generation, Oregon passed a law in 2007 that created a renewable portfolio standard (RPS).

The law established that Pacific Power and other large utilities in Oregon would increase development and use of renewable energy sources. The RPS requires large utilities to have electricity from qualifying sources of at least 5 percent by 2011, 15 percent by 2015, 20 percent by 2020 and 25 percent by 2025.

What’s funny about this 2007 law, other than its massively false premises about the renewable resource industry capacity and the supposed evils of fossil fuels, is that hydroelectric power doesn’t count toward the RPS if generated by dams built prior to 1995. Evidently, despite the fact that hydroelectricity has been providing low cost, renewable, and – dare I say it – green energy for the entire Pacific Northwest electric grid for around 8 decades or so, it’s just not green enough. Or new enough. Or something.

Enter this crazy band of citizens who think that hydroelectric power is renewable. The Oregonian reports,

The initiative seeks to alter renewable portfolio standards approved in 2007 that require large utilities obtain 15 percent of their energy from renewable sources by 2015, and 25 percent by 2025. The law prohibits large utilities from counting hydroelectric power generated by dams built before 1995 towards the standard.

Portland lobbyist Paul Cosgrove and Salem resident Tom Hammer, the initiative sponsors, want to count all hydroelectric power toward the green energy mandate. “Most people agree that hydro power is renewable because in the every day meaning of that term, it is renewable,” Cosgrove said.

Critics of this form of sustainable green energy were quick to respond, saying that the RPS rules were “aimed at developing newer sources of renewable energy, such as wind and solar”, and that the standards weren’t written “to count hydroelectric power generated by dams built decades ago.”

In other words, despite being literally decades ahead of its time, hydro doesn’t count because it’s already solved the problem before it even existed, which then leaves environmental activists with precious little to do.

Fear not, young idealist! We can reinvent the problem AND the solution! So says Jeff Bissonnette, of the Citizen’s Utility Board of Oregon:

“Hydro is renewable, but we can’t pat ourselves on the back for the things we did back in the ’30s,” Bissonnette said. “That’s meeting current load. We’re trying to figure out how to meet load growth going forward.”

Of course, hydroelectric produces so much excess power that wind farms are frequently forced to shut down. But since that completely blows a hole in the RPS, it can’t be allowed to continue.

But hey, we can always try to bring some common sense to the legislature. As is frequently the case, in this instance it comes in the form of a perfectly logical citizen’s initiative. Let’s hope the voters approve logic over the sustained war on affordable energy that allows us the best standard of living ever known to humanity.