Energy Debate Overlooks Profound Threat to Vulnerable Northwest Communities
Loss of Carbon-free Hydropower Would Create a Two-Class Social Equity System
Vancouver, WA, November 25, 2019 – Northwest RiverPartners, a not-forprofit, member-driven organization that advocates for carbon-free hydropower,
today issued a warning about the dire impact that dam removal and the
associated threat to hydroelectricity would have on the most vulnerable
communities in the Northwest.
“On an annual basis, fifty percent of the Northwest region’s electricity generation
comes from carbon-free hydropower,” said Kurt Miller, executive director of
Northwest RiverPartners. “Loss of this critical resource would lead to blackouts
and capacity shortages, disproportionately burdening susceptible communities.”
Northwest RiverPartners isn’t alone in their concern about the future of electricity
in the region. In an unprecedented move, hundreds of Northwest energy leaders
convened this October to address the real threat to future power resources and
supply, in part due to increased efforts to diminish the hydroelectric system.
These efforts come at a time when thousands of megawatts of carbon-emitting
resources are already being removed without an immediate replacement.
Yet many involved in the debate have overlooked the critical sociological and
economic aspect that would adversely impact low income communities and
communities of color.
“There is a very important social justice component of our work that embraces
environmental equity issues and prioritizes a renewable energy future that
doesn’t leave people behind,” said Miller. “We advocate for hydroelectricity
because it is clean, affordable, and accessible for all communities – it is a critical
part of the Northwest’s clean energy future.”
Many Northwest communities with the highest percentage of low-income and
disadvantaged populations and communities of color, rely on hydroelectricity as a
cost-effective carbon-free energy resource. Many also rely on dams, and the
benefits they provide, for jobs.
For example, the Tri-Cities region in Washington state has a growing population
of almost 300,000 of which over one third are communities of color according to
the U.S. Census Bureau. A high proportion of workers within this community are
employed by or tied to the agricultural industry, which in turn relies on the
irrigation made possible by area dams.
As evidenced by the current California power outages, which have shown a
disturbing economic divide, the price of installing alternative energy systems is
still cost-prohibitive to more vulnerable segments of the population.
“While it’s important that we focus on a clean energy future, our current
trajectory is leading to a two-class system for electricity where only the wellto-do can afford new energy sources such as solar panels, inverters,
batteries and backup generation,” continued Miller.
A threat to carbon-free hydropower would also affect small businesses in the
region. Solar and wind power, which are balanced by the stability and reliability of
hydropower, are becoming more affordable. Still, the least expensive way to
participate in the clean energy future and maintain the cheapest power bills in the
country is through the use of hydroelectricity.
“At our meetings, we’ve often said that you cannot have sustainability without
equity,” said Sam Brooks, founder and board chairman, Oregon Association of
Minority Entrepreneurs. “Our minority, women-owned, and emerging small
businesses need continued access to clean and affordable energy resources like
The debate over the value and role of hydropower and the prospect of dam
removal in the Northwest has been gaining traction and will reach a pivotal point
next February with the release of the Draft Columbia River System Operations
Environmental Impact Statement by federal action agencies. The report will
analyze the societal, environmental, and economic costs and benefits of
breaching the four lower Snake River dams.
About Northwest RiverPartners
Northwest RiverPartners is a not-for-profit, member-driven organization.
Members include community-owned utilities, ports, and businesses from across
the northwestern United States. The organization is focused on raising
awareness about how the Northwest’s hydropower system betters communities
and the natural environment and encourages science-based solutions that help
hydropower and salmon coexist and thrive. http://nwriverpartners.org
Oonagh Morgan Hurst