The Value of the Lower Snake River Dams

Hydropower is a renewable energy resource created by the energy of falling water. Gravity forces water to flow through specially equipped hydroelectric dams to produce carbon-free and inexpensive electricity that provides the Northwest with nearly 90% of its renewable energy. In 2020, the 31 Federal Columbia River Power System dams located around the Pacific Northwest generated 7,482 average annual megawatts. But when working at full capacity, the dams have the ability to generate up to 22,442 megawatts. That’s enough to power up to 10 Seattle-sized cities.

Because dams do not produce carbon emissions when generating electricity, the abundance of hydropower makes the region’s power system the cleanest in the United States and prevents 50 million metric tons of carbon emissions from entering the atmosphere.

Benefits of the lower Snake River Dams:

  • Dam operators can increase generation to power roughly two million homes during heat waves or cold snaps, preventing blackouts. Under normal circumstances, they produce the power for about 750,000 on average.
  • The operation of Ice Harbor Dam and nearby McNary Dam provide a crucial source of drinking
  • Water for Tri-Cities communities. It also enables irrigation for 60,000 acres of farmland in central and southeastern Washington that provide important agricultural job opportunities.
  • The lower Snake River dams provide up to one quarter of BPA’s operating reserves. Reserves represent the additional generation that utilities are required to hold in case of unexpected changes in generation or electrical demand. Bonneville is required to hold these reserves to ensure the reliability of the grid.
  • The lower Snake River dams support a growing community of nearly 300,000 people—one third of whom identify as Hispanic—who live in the Tri-Cities area, and provide a local source of affordable, carbon free electricity that is critical to the region.

Bonneville Power Administration page on Benefit of Dams

Northwest River Partners website

August 24 is National Hydropower Day

For over 135 years, hydropower has powered this nation with clean, renewable energy. As a way to collectively recognize hydropower’s undeniable contributions to bolstering the nation’s clean energy infrastructure and providing grid resiliency and reliability benefits, National Hydropower Day is observed on Aug. 24 this year. #HydroDay

To celebrate, PenLight wants to share the importance of hydroelectricity and how it benefits our members. Here are some facts from our valued collaborators at Northwest RiverPartners:

  • Hydropower produces no carbon emissions, thereby significantly reducing the total carbon footprint of the region’s energy production. Thanks to the help of hydropower, the Northwest boasts the nation’s least carbon-intensive electric grid and the lowest cost for clean energy.
  • Hydropower acts as a renewable energy multiplier. Hydroelectric dams can store water and release it to generate electricity when needed. This ability allows hydropower to fill in the gaps when a change in the weather keeps wind and solar plants from producing electricity. When hydroelectric resources are present, more solar and wind can be added to the grid.
  • Some have said hydroelectricity is actually the first form of solar power. Sunlight evaporates water in the ocean, which produces the weather that provides rain and snow. That runoff fills our rivers as gravity draws it back toward the ocean. Hydroelectric turbines use the kinetic energy of that moving water to spin them, generating massive amounts of clean, renewable power.

Resources and to learn more about hydropower, the benefits of the lower Snake River Dams and more: