Hydropower in US prevents pollution in Canada

The development of hydropower in the United States reduces the environmental impact of emissions from US electricity generation on many parts of Canada, according to the Canadian Hydropower Association.

In response to a recent report by the US National Hydropower Association, Averting Disaster: Keeping the Lights on with Hydropower, outlining the importance of hydropower as a reliable and clean energy source, the Canadian Hydropower Association has also emphasised its significance in preventing cross border pollution.

“Since Canada generates 62% of its electricity from hydropower, our electricity grids have been spared some of the problems that have recently emerged in parts the United States,” said Pierre Fortin, Executive Director of the Canadian Hydropower Association. “Many Canadians also have a direct stake in the vastly better performance on atmospheric emissions that would result from US hydropower development, since prevailing winds carry from the US into large areas of Canada including major population centres.”

The US report says that despite hydropower’s reputation as a clean source of renewable energy, and its less well-known contribution to the reliability of the nation’s electricity networks, federal policy towards it has foundered. New development has been frozen due to an onerous licencing process, says the report, and high-profile campaigns against hydropower have frozen political will to find balanced reasonable approaches to support the renewable energy source.

Hydropower has unique and unseen electrical benefits, says the report. Today’s advanced, digital age economy depends on an uninterrupted supply of electricity (see related story), and billions of dollars are lost during power system failures.

Hydropower has the ability to restart generation after a cut without an external source of power, providing an auxiliary power source for more complex generation sources that take hours or even days to restart, says the US report. Hydro’s storage capability means that it can be set aside to meet daily peak loads, and consumes little fuel (ie using little water), when running at less than full power, compared to other sources.

Critical shortfalls caused by deregulation, and their resulting high prices, says the National Hydropower Association, will plague future consumers with potentially devastating impacts to the US economy. As the development of generation sources will be guided by national energy policy, it is necessary for the federal government to enhance hydropower’s viability, says the association. This can be achieved through hydropower licencing reform, producing incentives legislation, and de-politicising the debate over dams.

With reference to the threat that hydropower poses to wildlife (see related story), the report is critical of fish passage requirements, which have constrained the operation of a large hydroelectric project in the Northwest. “While species diversity must be maintained and threatened wildlife protected, policymakers must understand, and factor in, the consequences of lost generation to our electrical systems,” says the report.

“In the US and Canada, current approaches to developing hydropower see the most viable sites as those with the least effects on local populations, ecosystems and river flows, and the least flooding of land,” said Fortin. “We should also emphasise the importance of upgrading existing sites. A high degree of consultation is required with stakeholders such as local communities, environmental groups, First Nations, and local officials, along with the commitment to identify, recognise and mitigate any impacts.”

“We believe that when the energy options are compared, informed publics in North America will support hydropower as a choice for reliable electricity that is economically and environmentally viable,” added Fortin.

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