Portland Oregon at night
The foundation and biggest part of our region’s energy mix is hydropower, the energy generated by the moving water in our mighty rivers. In the Northwest, hydropower is what turns the lights on and helps keep them on.

Nearly 60 percent of the energy produced in Oregon, Washington, Idaho and Montana is generated by Northwest dams on the Columbia and Snake rivers. The next largest power players in the region each contribute only a quarter of that amount: coal (15 percent) and natural gas (16 percent). Our dams alone produce enough electricity to power more than 11 cities the size of Seattle on average every year.

The vast majority (90 percent) of the Northwest’s renewable energy comes from hydropower. This abundant, carbon-free energy source is the reason why our carbon footprint is half that of other parts of the country. Hydropower is both our legacy and our future, keeping traditional jobs in our region, including those at Boeing, wood and chemical companies, aluminum manufacturers and other Northwest employers, and attracting new employers such as Intel, Google, Facebook, Amazon and BMW.

Northwest Utility Firm Resources 

Northwest energy resource mix

 Source: 2013 PNUCC Northwest Regional Forecast (average water conditions)

What Sets Hydro Apart 

  • Clean and Carbon-free: Hydroelectric power generation adds no carbon to the air. Because carbon-free hydropower makes up the biggest part of the Northwest’s energy mix, our region’s carbon footprint is half that of other areas of the country. 
  • Renewable: Dams store water from melting snow and rainfall in reservoirs. When the water is released and passes through turbines, it generates electricity and the water can be reused over and over as it moves downriver through multiple dams. 
  • Flexible: Because hydro power can be stored, it can be called on when needed. Hydropower is there at the flick of a switch to meet the ups and downs of electricity demand. This flexibility makes it a vital partner for fluctuating energy sources that are not as constant, such as wind and solar. 
  • Reliable: Our rivers are always flowing, which means we can rely on hydropower to meet the energy needs of Northwest families and businesses even when water is in short supply. 
  • Affordable: Hydropower keeps our energy costs down. The “fuel” is free, in the form of water that comes from mountain snowpack and rain. Electricity from Northwest hydropower facilities typically costs three to 10 times less (per megawatt hour) than that produced by nuclear, coal and natural gas plants. It’s also far cheaper than wind and solar. 

Hydropower’s Path to You

More than two-thirds of the hydropower generated in the Northwest is produced by federal hydroelectric projects on the Columbia and Snake rivers. These dams are operated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Bureau of Reclamation. The Bonneville Power Administration markets the power they produce to Northwest utilities and throughout the West, which send it through the electrical grid to homes and businesses.

Energy Spotlight: Why We Need the Snake River Dams

The four federal dams on the lower Snake River supply 12 percent of all the energy produced on average by the entire federal hydropower system. Each year they produce enough energy to power the entire city of Seattle. Some critics want to dismiss the significant value of these dams and have them removed. But they fail to understand the tremendous benefits these dams provide.

  •  Without them, 3 million tons of CO2 would be added to Northwest skies every year, according to the Northwest Power and Conservation Council.
  •  Without them, our region would be less prepared to deal with power emergencies. During extreme weather–a cold snap or heat wave–these dams provide critical back-up energy to meet peak demand and avoid power outages and blackouts. Wind and solar resources simply cannot fill this vital role.
  •  Without them, the region would need two nuclear, three coal-fired or six gas-fired power plants to replace the average annual power produced by the Snake River dams.

Dams on the Snake River

Lower Snake River dams