Creating jobs with hydropower

At a time when America’s economy is still fragile, job creation is stagnant, and energy prices are rising, we should be looking at every opportunity to put Americans back to work and increase domestic energy production. America’s hydropower industry is ready to meet this challenge.

As Eastern Washington’s voice in Congress, I know that hydropower helped build the Pacific Northwest. Decades ago, they turned what was once a desert into one of the most productive agricultural regions in the country. In addition to providing flood control and transportation, dams also provide the affordable, renewable energy that helped give birth to Boeing and Kaiser Aluminum and then turned them into global leaders in specialized manufacturing. Now the dams are powering hi-tech data centers in Eastern Washington such as the Titan complex in Moses Lake and the Yahoo, Intuit, and Microsoft data centers in Quincy.

And yet, despite its numerous advantages, hydropower remains vastly underutilized. While hydro meets 72 percent of Washington State’s total electricity needs, nationwide that number is only 7 percent. Furthermore, according to the National Hydropower Association, simply increasing the capacity at existing dams could create 700,000 new jobs. Again, that’s without building a single new dam.

As the founder of the Congressional Hydropower Caucus, I’ve been working to spread the great news about hydropower. And I’m excited to announce a new bipartisan bill with Rep. Diana DeGette (D-CO) to expand domestic hydropower production. Our bill, H.R. 3680, the Hydropower Regulatory Efficiency Act, would facilitate the development of hydropower and conduit projects through several common-sense reforms: First, we would exempt small hydropower and conduit projects (those generating under 5 megawatts of electricity) from the regulatory process completely. Next, we would give the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) the option to exempt hydro and conduit projects generating between 5-40 megawatts from the permitting process. Too often, hydropower and conduit projects get caught up in the permitting process, harming the irrigation districts which rely upon them. By expediting the permitting process in a way that establishes parity between the public and private sectors and between federal and non-federal agencies, we can unleash the enormous potential of American hydropower, greatly benefiting irrigation districts throughout the nation.

Rep. DeGette and I are going to push hard on this legislation because it will create jobs and ensure America’s competitive advantage in the energy sector. Hydropower has the capacity to meet our nation’s growing energy needs, reduce our dangerous dependence on foreign oil, bolster irrigation,and put Americans back to work.

It’s time to say “yes” to American hydropower. And that’s precisely what our bill does. I look forward to working with America’s irrigation districts to get the bill passed through Congress and signed into law.

Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA) is a member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee and founder of the Congressional Hydropower Caucus.