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Congressman: Hydro cannot be excluded from global warming debate

A congressman from the Pacific Northwest is urging that hydropower projects be preserved and encouraged as a tool to help stem global warming.

Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Wash., addressed the Northwest Hydroelectric Association annual conference Feb. 20, saying politics and hypocrisy underlie the climate change debate, especially in the treatment of hydropower and dam breaching by many supporters of action to stem climate change.

"Our region needs more people at the table who understand that annual hydropower output is equivalent to the energy produced from 200 million barrels of oil, that hydropower is more efficient than any other form of electricity generation, and that hydropower offsets more carbon emissions than all other renewable energy sources combined," Hastings said.

Hasting said the region should be seeking ways to maximize the benefits of hydropower, including incentives for increased or more efficient hydropower generation.

The congressman noted there are existing federal dams with empty turbine bays that might house new generating units, including 2,160-MW John Day on the Columbia River in Oregon (HNN 8/16/07), 402-MW Dworshak on the Clearwater River in Idaho, and 525-MW Libby on the Kootenai River in Montana. He added that most hydropower turbines in the Northwest could be replaced with new, more efficient technology.

Hastings said "cap and trade" legislation before Congress, which would limit emissions of carbon dioxide and require trading of emissions allowances, could have adverse economic effects and could penalize regions already relying on clean hydropower.

"It would be a twisted outcome if cap and trade legislation actually punished our region for having clean hydropower, while rewarding the polluting coal states with billions in benefits," he said.

To avoid such an outcome, Hastings said the Northwest should unite behind several principles: hydropower is a renewable energy source; the hydro-based system must be protected and not penalized while "polluters" are rewarded; and hydro should be encouraged by making incremental hydro output an emissions offset.

Climate change and its relationship to hydropower was a major topic of discussion for the 175 participants in the Northwest Hydroelectric Association conference, Feb. 19-21 in Portland. Northwest hydro operators said they would pursue a hybrid approach to climate change incentives so that the Northwest's leadership in conservation, renewables, and salmon recovery is acknowledged in any climate change scheme.

Conference sessions also included discussion of new technologies, implementation of new projects in the region, licensing compliance, and recreation and public safety.

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