Comments from the peanut gallery

I have always maintained a front row seat in the peanut gallery. From a very young age, I had the gift of inserting unique perspectives at opportune (and sometimes, inopportune) moments.

After attending a number of hydropower meetings and conferences, I have found myself taking a seat in each and every presentation regarding the importance of the next generation of hydro professionals, as well as the panels discussing how to go about pulling them into hydro as students.

As is my status quo, I feel compelled to add the perspective of a young professional to the dialogue.

When U.S. Senator Ron Wyden exclaimed that “hydro is back. WAY back,” in Washington DC in front of 500 hydropower industry professionals, the excitement and anticipation in the room was as real and tangible as the voice recorder I was holding. No flashing lights, pounding music, pulsing lasers, or live production was needed to grab the audience’s attention. Senator Wyden  inspired, energized, and bolstered the spirits of an industry more than ready to have it’s day in the renewable energy spotlight with those simple, yet powerful five words.

As I listened to Senator Wyden, a voice popped into my head, quietly reminding that there is another side to this coin.

With great power comes great responsibility.

Whether you attribute the quote to Uncle Ben or Voltaire, the truth remains. To whom much is given, even more is required.

As we all anxiously await the day that the President picks up his pen in support of clean, renewable, hydroelectric power, I would like to pose the question: how are we to embrace the bright future we are fighting for in Congress while saying goodbye to 50% of our skilled workforce over the next several years? How do we staff our plants with the best of the best, when they are leaving behind their hard hats and replacing them with fishing rods? How do we ensure that the future of the industry, the people, will be there when called upon?

From my perspective, the answer lies in the reason Senator Wyden’s address lit a fire in many an audience member’s heart and mind.

Passion. Enthusiasm. Communication.

It is the passion and enthusiasm I felt in that room at the National Hydropower Association’s Annual Conference that made me fall in love with hydropower. And there are thousands more young professionals waiting to feel that same spark.

There are obviously many factors and dynamics involved in training and commissioning a skilled plant technician or operator. I would venture to say, however, that the spark of that process is the passion for the industry communicated by those about to leave it behind.

If we are to ensure the future of this industry, that same passion and enthusiasm are going to be crucial components in drawing the next generation into hydropower.

From conversations I’ve had with the next generation of hydro professionals, the industry is an exciting one, but one that has been on the outskirts of common knowledge. If we are going to propel this industry into the next century, hydropower MUST leave the shoreline and jump into the mainstream.

The voice of hydro needs to extend beyond our annual meetings and quarterly retreats. While your communications team and public relations staff are highly skilled at communication, they cannot recreate the excitement that you feel talking about your vocation. Your voice is valuable, and more important than you know. Get into the schools! Brush up on your social media skills and create a presence in an arena saturated with young, inquiring minds. Set up visits to local colleges, buy a college kid a sandwich, and share your passion for hydropower. Be infectious. Be enthusiastic.

I am not a masked superhero, or a plant manager; I am simply a young person and a member of the generation that is the future of this industry. Young professionals just like me are waiting on the sidelines, searching anxiously for that job that will be more than a daily chore, but a cause to put our knowledge, heart, and soul behind. An industry that we can sink our teeth into. A cause that we know is making the world a better place.

At the risk of sounding cliché, the future of hydropower is now. The bills currently moving through the legislative process are just the tip of the iceberg of potential to be seen in this industry. Now is the time to recruit the team that will transform potential to reality.

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Bethany Duarte formerly was associate editor of Hydro Review and HRW-Hydro Review Worldwide magazines.

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