climate change

Addressing the impact of climate change is a national and global priority. But as other regions scramble to reduce their dependence on fossil fuels for energy, the Northwest is in a very different—and enviable—position. The reason? Hydropower and the Columbia and Snake river system.

In the Northwest, we already meet nearly 60 percent of our electricity needs with a carbon-free, renewable energy resource: hydropower. In years when rainfall and snowpack produce a higher water flow, that percentage rises even higher.

Hydropower, unlike coal-fired power or natural gas, produces no carbon emissions. As a result, our carbon footprint is half that of other parts of the country.

No Measurable Methane Emissions

Some hydropower reservoirs that are rich in nutrients support the growth of large amounts of vegetation, which decompose and release methane gas. These emissions  can contribute to climate change.

Fortunately, dam reservoirs on the Columbia and Snake rivers don’t have these necessary characteristics for methane production. As a result, they don’t produce measurable amounts of methane gas. This lack of measurable methane emissions is another reason why hydropower is the Northwest’s largest source of clean renewable energy.

What It Means to Be Carbon-Free 

Source: Texas Transportation Institute, Texas A&M University, for the U.S. Maritime Administration (MARAD)

  • The power generated by the Snake River dams alone allows the region to avoid 3-4.5 million tons of CO2 each year. 
  • The marine highway created by the Columbia and Snake system is the most environmentally friendly way to move cargo. It allows millions of tons of Northwest commodities and goods to travel to market in barges on rivers, instead of in trucks on roads. This system of rivers and ports keeps 700,000 trucks—and the CO2 they would produce—off our highways each year.
  • Hydropower dams store water from melting snow and rainfall in reservoirs, which is then released and passes through turbines to generate electricity. In the Northwest, management of these dams and reservoirs buffer the region from greater climate variability and warming

Renewable Energy Backbone of the Northwest

Wind and solar tend to grab the headlines, but in the Northwest, it’s hydropower that supplies 90 percent of the region’s renewable energy. Because the rivers are forever flowing, hydropower can always be relied on to meet the energy needs of Northwest citizens, even in low water conditions.

In the Northwest, hydro is also a tool used to back-up intermittent generators, like wind or solar. Hydro generation can be quickly adjusted to follow changes in wind production. Simply put, when wind and solar can’t show up for work, hydropower is always available at the flick of a switch.

nwrpClimate Change