Perspectives: From Vision to Reality

Andrew Munro is the 2010-2011 president of the National Hydropower Association (NHA)

When I took office as NHA’s president last year, I looked at our industry and realized that we were poised to enter a time that could mark either the beginning of hydropower’s new century or one of the greatest missed opportunities in our country’s energy history.

Hydropower’s benefits — clean energy production, job creation, and more — aligned perfectly with our country’s top energy, economic, and environmental priorities. Would this become an era of renewable energy development with hydropower as an engine for powering the country’s success, as it was during the Great Depression? Or, would we fail to answer the call and watch precious resources become mired permanently in the inertia of bureaucracy and old ways of thinking?

To seize on this extraordinary opportunity, we outlined three goals that I believed would propel us toward success: (1) Doubling the megawatts under consideration at FERC, (2) Doubling U.S. industry jobs, and (3) Doubling U.S. hydropower capacity. I’m pleased to report that NHA has made great strides on all three, and we’re now beginning to see a vivid picture emerge of what the future may hold.

One of the first signs that our industry had turned a corner came at Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). Within months of beginning this effort, new projects under consideration at FERC doubled from around 30,000 MW to 60,000 MW. While many of these projects are little more than ideas that have yet to begin the rigorous test of development, the fact that they exist at FERC shows that our industry is bringing new optimism and entrepreneurial vision to its work.

We also started to get a clearer sense of the future after analyzing hydropower’s job creation and energy capacity potential in a more systematic, quantitative way through the Navigant study commissioned by NHA.

On the jobs front, we found that doubling jobs in the industry is a goal that’s simply too low. Looking at opportunities for cumulative direct, indirect, and induced jobs, our industry could support 1.4 million people by 2025. More than a million people could join the 300,000 people currently working in our sector. That means more than a million American families could benefit from the steady, good-quality jobs created by our industry.

Our analysis of potential capacity growth also trends ever higher. With national energy and environmental policies that support investment in hydropower — which I believe we’re on a course to achieve — we can double hydropower capacity by 2025, with more to come in years beyond. Congress is already responding to our effort as well and has turned to hydropower in economic stimulus programs and increased federal R&D funding.

Consider what a sea-change this is! After more than four decades with almost no growth, hydropower can double in 15 years. Much of this growth will come from low-impact projects that capitalize on existing infrastructure, such as efficiency improvements and powering non-powered dams — as well as new energy capacity facilities, such as pumped storage — all of which offer significant new sources of domestic, renewable and carbon-free electricity. And we have much more to tap from emerging technologies.

A year ago when we articulated our goals to double some of the hydropower industry’s key metrics, some people questioned whether NHA was setting the bar too high. We don’t hear many doubters today. Instead, people often ask me how we can move forward faster.

I share this enthusiasm. When I think of the stability and prosperity that new jobs and more renewable energy will bring to communities across the United States, I am inspired to set even more ambitious goals for our industry. I urge all of you to join with NHA to bring vision to reality. Make hydro work for America.

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