This week as we mark Earth Day, it’s especially important to recognize that the Northwest is a special place where hydropower provides 90 percent of our renewable energy and keeps the air clean. It also remains the backbone of the region’s economy, producing affordable reliable power that help families and keeps existing businesses competitive and attracts new ones. The public understands this. According to a March 2014 poll conducted by Davis, Hibbitts & Midghall (DHM Research) for Northwest RiverPartners, the public has a strong and growing appreciation of hydro’s benefits to the region’s environment and economy.
For example, 3 out of 4 Northwest residents identified hydropower as a clean, renewable energy resource. A majority of residents (54 percent) consider hydropower to be the region’s most practical energy resource, up from 47 percent last year. Wind energy came in a distant second at 15 percent, with energy efficiency at 7 percent, solar at 6 percent, and coal, natural gas and nuclear combined at 4 percent. And, 7 in 10 Northwest residents continue to believe that their state legislatures and Congress should declare hydro as a renewable energy source.
When it comes to statements about the Columbia and Snake River dams, 74 percent of Pacific Northwest residents believe the dams provide vital flood control that protects lives, private property and the economy of local communities. And 78 percent say irrigation for farmers to feed the Northwest and the world is another fundamental asset provided by dams.
I was especially pleased to see residents’ strong support for hydro and, in particular, the Snake River dams, having recently watched a film entitled “DamNation” calling for a new era of dam removal in the U.S., focused on the Snake dams. The film never presented a balanced view of the issue and the producers cut out interviews with RiverPartners, the Bonneville Power Administration and others that could have provided a useful perspective on the value of these dams.
As a National Public Radio review of the film put it: “The filmmakers … never offer a comprehensive overview of the cases for and against dams. (Some prominent supporters declined to be interviewed.) The movie’s style is as discursive and scattershot as Knight’s narration. Even strong anti-dam arguments, such as the silting that eventually makes the edifices useless, are mentioned only in passing. DamNation would rather be where the fun is: rafting newly liberated whitewater or watching an activist rappel down an immense concrete wall, paintbrush in hand.”
According to the DHM poll of 1200 residents in Washington, Oregon and Idaho, the public understands their value and that is what really matters: 60 percent of residents consider these four dams critical to the region and agree that removing them is an extreme measure that would do more harm than good. Only 11 percent indicated support for removing the dams, down from 15 percent in last year’s poll.
RiverPartners’ “CleanHydro” (cleanhydro.com) education effort, now in its second year, is helping to increase public support for and understanding of hydropower and the multiple benefits of the Columbia and Snake river system. The poll results demonstrate significant public support for the Snake River dams, and for hydropower in general, but also show us that we can and should do more to spread awareness about these benefits to the Northwest. Not just on Earth Day, but all year-round.