Today is an exciting time in hydro. While it may seem surprising to many — especially in North America — more hydropower is now under development worldwide than at any time in history. And in North America, there’s more activity focused on new projects and project improvements than at any time in recent history.
This did not “just happen.” For more than 20 years, the U.S.’s National Hydropower Association (NHA), the Canadian Hydropower Association, and other national, regional, and international associations have worked diligently to pave a solid path for hydropower’s future — a future where the sound, sustainable production of hydroelectricity is a vital contributor to human welfare.
We know hydropower makes good sense: It’s renewable, it’s domestic, and it has minimal emissions. With modern design and technology, hydro can provide needed energy — and without undue environmental effects.
There are numerous opportunities for enhancing hydro’s contributions — including upgrades and incremental additions, conduit applications, development at existing dams … and new projects. We also can foster cutting-edge technologies that will someday make important contributions to electricity supply.
Does this sound rosy? Of course it does!
It will be necessary for us to take important and difficult steps to help usher in the industry’s promising future.
The situation we face is that:
— Most people are favorable toward hydropower, yet many policy makers are less than enthusiastic.
— The U.S. Department of Energy has no budget for pursuing hydro research and development. This in spite of favorable results and promising directions from federal R&D that was previously supported, in particular for advanced turbines that produce more electricity with less water and solve environmental problems.
— And, in spite of improvements, the U.S. process for plant licensing remains extremely costly and time consuming. People are asking: Are the results we are getting commensurate with the efforts required?
— Further, as we pursue emerging ocean, tidal, and kinetic technologies, the threat looms of passing on to them a legacy of balkanized and possibly even hostile approval processes. Do we really want this?
Hydro and new water-based technologies have so much to contribute: Any way you look at it, conventional and new resources offer opportunities for tens of thousands of new megawatts!
How can we possibly get from here to there?
It’s vital to: Communicate. Educate. Inform.
In the U.S., Capitol Hill needs to know about hydro. More than 140 senators and representatives in the new Democrat-led congress are on committees having influence over policies affecting hydro. These congressmen and women need to know what hydro can do — and how hydro can help in addressing energy problems!
Agencies also need to know more about hydro. Many agencies have agendas which we need to better understand. And we need to seek to work with them to find solutions to their concerns.
The environmental community needs to be better informed about hydro. Many say that today’s No. 1 concern is global warming. It’s time that our industry works more collaboratively to pursue constructive approaches to climate change concerns. In reducing CO2 emissions, hydropower’s benefits are huge. Yet, in today’s world, we cannot assume that these benefits will be recognized; our earnest efforts are needed.
Even the hydropower community needs to know more about hydro. Each of us needs to be prepared to tell hydro’s story. If possible, we need to visit and speak with our elected officials. We also need to be active in our local communities. And, at the very least, we need to be able to write or e-mail policymakers to share with them our views about hydropower and its benefits. Further, we need to know why we are supporting organizations such as the National Hydropower Association.
As the U.S.’s new political future takes shape in the time leading to the next presidential election, hydro can lay ground to become a more meaningful part of the U.S.’s energy future. However, we must get the right messages to the right people. We need to do this now. The possibilities are great. Yet, good things won’t happen unless we work together to meet this challenge. We need to enlarge our commitment to match our opportunity.
I invite you to join me in this effort. It’s more than just doing good business and providing good service — it’s about creating a better future for ourselves, our children, and grandchildren. Working together, we can help hydro toward a better future for everyone.
The above editorial is adapted from Leslie Eden’s address to the NHA annual conference, held in March 2007. Ms. Eden, president of HCI Publications and publisher of Hydro Review, is president of NHA for the 2007-2008 term.