In last week’s edition of the Chinook Observer, I read Allen Lebovitz's response to the letter submitted by the PUD No. 2 commissioners and included in the June 12 edition of the Observer. Lebovitz started off by labeling the PUD’s position as political and just another “say it and they may just believe it” statement which should be viewed with skepticism and fact checked. He then began a lengthy argument which he hoped, by saying, would be believed.
The PUD No. 2 commissioners noted the 100% clean energy bill passed by the Legislature and signed by the governor guides the state toward a 100% carbon-free electricity grid. They cautioned “its intended outcomes can easily be derailed if the law is not carried out in the spirit in which it was developed.” They noted, “the challenge in developing the law was setting the stage for carbon reduction in the electricity sector without undermining the reliability of the grid or imposing undo financial burden on consumers, especially those least able to pay escalating costs. An important key to meeting this challenge was recognition of the critical role our state’s most abundant renewable resource, hydropower, will play in our pathway to a 100% clean grid.”
According to Lebovitz, this is clearly a subtle move on the part of those devious PUD No. 2 commissioners “to require hydropower to be considered a renewable energy source in the state of Washington, which it is not.” Hmmm. I’m trying, I’m trying. Nope. I just don’t see it.
Per Wikipedia, The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), within the U.S. Department of Energy, is the principal agency of the U.S. Federal Statistical System responsible for collecting analyzing, and disseminating energy information to promote sound policymaking, efficient markets and public understanding of energy and its interaction with the economy and the environment.
According to the EIA, U.S. utility-scale electricity generation facilities produced some 4,178 billion kilowatt-hours (kWh) of electricity in 2018. The EIA breaks that generation down to 63.5% from fossil fuels (natural gas, coal, petroleum and other gases), 19.3% from nuclear, and 17.1% from renewables which are listed as hydropower (7%), wind (6.6%), biomass (1.5%), and solar (1.6%). More than 44% of the total U.S. hydroelectric generation is produced by the 14 hydroelectric dams on the Columbia’s main stem and those on its tributaries.
Wait! An administration within the U.S. Department of Energy says hydropower is a renewable energy source and, in fact, is the nation’s most significant source of renewable energy?
According to Lebovitz, the most damnable statement contained in the PUD No. 2 commissioners' letter is the statement that hydropower is a zero emissions resource. He argues dams turn large extents of free-flowing rivers into warm lakes that emit methane, a greenhouse gas.
The Columbia River is the largest river by discharge into the Pacific from North America and is the fourth largest by volume in the U.S. Its discharge rate is on the order of 264,900 cubic feet per second. Dams on the Columbia don’t stop the river. The river flows through the dams, through the turbines. If it did not, it would not produce electricity. Lebovitz is correct that lakes emit methane. He is, however, incorrect in assigning the designation of lake to the Columbia River. Methane is generated by the eutrophication of lentic bodies of water. Lentic bodies are still (quiescent) bodies of water. Eutrophication is a dying process caused by the overgrowth and subsequent decay of aquatic plants. The Columbia river is neither lentic nor eutrophic.
Lebovitz is correct in saying we should all look at statements with a critical eye. That also means that we also have a responsibility to put forth the effort to understand what the author(s) of the statement are saying and not just interpret their meaning from a biased pre-opinion and an overly quick read.
After several readings of the commissioners’ letter, I think I understand what they are saying and believe they are correct in what they said. Now, it is up to you to decide for yourself.