Renewables

11.26.12

Powering America with Canadian Hydropower

Eli Lehrer writes that although American hydropower has reached its logical limits on new dams -- although existing ones can be enlarged to add capacity -- there's a quite logical answer to expanding this relatively clean variety of power generation: Canada.

According to data his Canadian Hydropower Association has collected from its members, Canada has an estimated 163,000 megawatts of untapped hydro capacity: enough to meet any expected increases in U.S. demand for electricity, enough to transform about a third of the U.S. vehicle fleet to electrical power or to replace many scheduled-for-retirement power-generating plants. “This,” he tells visitors, “is where we’re going.” Irving has every reason to act the cheerleader, but hardly anybody doubts his fundamental point: Hydropower offers the potential of an energy boom almost as large as the one now associated with natural gas.

Indeed, hydropower from Canada offers Americans an almost too-good-to-be-true source of energy. It’s clean and renewable like wind and solar power, while being reliable, proven, and cheap like coal and natural gas. In fact, developing more hydropower in Canada for use “down south” appears likely to achieve both the cost and efficiency goals prized by conservatives while satisfying the environmental goals of the political left. For the moment, however, the lack of interest groups that support more hydropower—and the presence (on both sides of the border) of groups that oppose it—makes it difficult to know what will happen, despite potentially massive benefits for the U.S. economy.