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December 2012 Policy Study, Number 12-12


Water, Water Everywhere, but Not a Drop for Power





If the United States and state governments are concerned about renewable energy and global climate change issues caused by power generation from traditional sources such as oil and coal, they must reduce the onerous regulatory environment and increase support for hydroelectric power.


Though hydropower is not flashy, with the “pretty” visuals that wind turbines and solar panels have, it is fundamentally a better, more reliable, and more controllable source of energy.


The situation is best summed up by a statement from one industry representative, who said “Every single day, water is flowing through the gates. When you see that rolling, turbulent water going by, that is wasted renewable energy,” said Mark Stover of Hydro Green Energy of Illinois.[54]


Currently there are approximately 80,000 megawatts of hydropower projects being reviewed by the FERC. This equals the total current production of hydroelectric power in the U.S. (which we have already seen is about 7 percent of the total electricity), according to the Executive Director of the National Hydropower Association.[55] Approving these projects in a timely fashion could double the output from a clean, environmentally friendly, stable power source.


For American taxpayers to let environmental concerns delay implementation of this important energy source is short sighted. Wild flowers, tiny bats, migrating birds, and common fish are all nice and worthy of their place in our world, but the regulatory overreach and paperwork generation by the federal bureaucracy is misplaced effort.


If we truly have critical environmental, availability, and national security concerns about energy production from oil, coal, and nuclear power, then sources such as hydropower must be pursued with alacrity. Traditional hydroelectric generation technology is well-known, relatively inexpensive, and easily manageable. Importantly, it is cost effective and does not require huge development subsidies.


New hydroelectric technologies, such as low-head, modular, and in-line turbines, are being rapidly developed and can be quickly and efficiently implemented and used. The resulting positive benefit to cities, businesses, and families would be almost immediate.


Taxpayers should insist that we move rapidly ahead, increasing the hydroelectric power generation part of our energy mix. The Iowa Legislature, Senator Chuck Grassley, and Governor Terry Branstad should work as aggressively on promoting and protecting hydroelectric power as they are for the ethanol and wind energy industries.


Out-of-control water power has caused adventure, woe, sin, and redemption in Iowa throughout our entire history. With today’s knowledge and skills we must not sit in the middle of opportunity and let it pass us by. We should take the lesson of the Ancient Mariner to heart and not allow ourselves to have “water, water everywhere” but not a drop for power.



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