Hydropower: Preventing
‘Rolling Blackouts’ & Power Shortages

Washington state predicts energy usage will double by 2050, and studies reveal demand for electricity will outpace supply. Meanwhile, the White House has announced its goal to decarbonize the U.S. grid by 2035, an objective that requires a massive increase in generating capacity.

Electrification—replacing technologies that use fossil fuels (coal, oil and natural gas) with technologies that use electricity as a source of energy—is creating more demands on the electrical grid than ever before. This increased demand may produce a significant energy resource deficit and even lead to price hikes and widespread power outages.

Where Will We Get Extra Power?

Washington relies on hydropower for most electricity generation. In 2022, hydroelectric power accounted for 67% of Washington's total electricity net generation from both utility-scale (1 megawatt or larger) and small-scale (less than 1 megawatt) facilities.

Hydropower is an excellent complement to any comprehensive renewable energy strategy—especially to prevent "blackouts" common in states that rely heavily on intermittent energy sources. In fact, it takes 5 megawatts of wind, solar or battery power to replace 1 megawatt of hydropower capacity. Growing demand for electricity and the fickle nature of green technologies such as wind and solar mean hydropower as an existing, clean baseload resource is more critical than ever before.

That low-cost, clean, reliable hydropower energy is not just a convenience; it's a life-saving necessity, particularly to heat homes during bitter cold winter months or to prevent blackouts from threatening human safety.

An energy shortage could lead to rolling blackouts, as we saw in California in 2020, in Texas and Oklahoma in 2021, and in Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia in 2022.

What Are Some Solutions for Energy Shortages?

Level the Playing Field for Hydropower

Washington state is the only state in the U.S. that doesn't recognize hydropower as a renewable resource. Furthermore, the U.S. has the capacity to increase hydropower production from 101 gigawatts to nearly 150 gigawatts by 2050, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. To prevent energy shortages, U.S. lawmakers must pass legislation affirming the role of hydropower as an essential renewable resource and updating federal renewable purchase requirements to include hydropower. Policymakers may also consider strategies to retrofit some of America's 87,000+ nonpowered dams to produce hydropower.

Columbia River Treaty

The decade-long pursuit of a rebalanced and equitable Columbia River Treaty matters to Modern and its customers because ratepayers on the U.S. side of the border in the Northwest are currently and annually losing out on significant power benefits that should be flowing to them, and these ratepayers need to be protected from any future flood control costs that should instead be borne by taxpayers (consistent with other regions of the U.S.).

Reform the Broken Permitting Process

Across the U.S., hydropower is one of our most affordable energy sources available. But the permitting process is simply broken. In the U.S., the hydropower licensing process requires the involvement of up to 11 federal and state agencies—double the agency involvement in other nations with established hydropower permitting processes.

Hydropower developers are forced to battle these protracted permitting and regulatory processes to license or re-license new or established projects. This increases risk and costs associated with licensing hydroelectric plants. It typically takes 5 years to obtain an original license, and re-licensing takes 7.6 years, according to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.

To further complicate the licensing struggle, new or smaller projects are disproportionately impacted by high costs. In both cases of large and small projects, the process may be further delayed by disagreements in negotiations over environmental studies. Policymakers must address this burdensome practice and remove roadblocks to efficient permitting processes.

To address increased energy demand and further boost our power supply mix, the U.S. may consider and approve licenses to construct and operate Small Modular Reactor (SMR) plants. SMRs are widely considered to be clean, carbon free and environmentally friendly power producers.

Address Supply Chain Delays

Supply chain delays are causing widespread shortages of parts and grid components to ensure our electrical system is running at peak reliability. Today, it can take nearly a year just to receive a distribution transformer.

U.S. lawmakers must create tax incentives to encourage manufacturing companies to relocate their businesses back to American soil. This will create U.S. jobs and eliminate the need for energy companies to rely on other countries for critical infrastructure products. Bolster the American manufacturing of critical goods through new reforms under the Buy American Act.