North America's Post-WWII growth was highly dependent on hydroelectric power. And it wasn't that 'freemarket" thing either (clue:--> "Hoover Dam"). The last Federal hydroelctric dam was authorized for Idaho's Snake river in the mid-1950's, and it was 1958 when the US Congress rejected the fourteenth and last proposed bill for a federal dam. That's almost a half century ago. Coal and nuclear generation met US electricity demand growth from there onward. There's a similar tale to tell for Canada. Enough history. Scattered across the continent are hundreds of public and private hydroelectric facilities in varying states of maintenance. Some of the dams are unstable and threaten downstream safety. Many were long ago stripped of their antique turbines, and buildings converted to "boutique" uses.Some of the Federal projects are old enough that they could use a technology upgrade. Modern turbines can be roughly twice as efficient as the old originals. And here lies the stealth climate mitigation weapon well under the radar of mainstream media (although we imagine that GE could hum the tune if asked to). While many of us have been focused on wind and solar generation projects that can't function without major grid upgrades, the existing hydro sites, large and small, are grid contiguous. They need new licenses, capital, and more efficient designs. Somebody must have looked at a bunch of scenarios for what this could offer to the nation as a whole???
Or not. The permits needed for hydroelectric facility upgrades are granted at the state and Federal levels. While there certainly are legitimate environmental issues to think about, activists will have to decide categorically whether they will allow "fish and wildlife" to be used as a generic tool to protect the local interests of property owners and the tourist/outdoor sport industries, allowing the climate protection and energy independence opportunities to slip away. We see this as analogous to trotting out the "bird kill" meme to protect property values from wind farms.
For a look what is being planned in your "neck of the woods", we suggest you log on onto the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) website here. Unlike wind farm proposals, FERC keeps close tabs on all the license applications, and characterizes their size and importance.
Hydro upgrades can be significant new source of green energy for climate change mitigation and for weaning ourselves from dependency on imported natural gas. The Swedish example is paramount.
We're definitely not arguing for the siting of new hydroelectric facilities. Not even one. The point is to think about a source of reliable proven green energy that investors and owners have either abandoned or failed to bring to current technology standards. They are trees not seen for the forest of fossil fuel intrigue.
Finally, we realize that there are some hydroelectric reservoirs in existance for which the best outcome would be dam removal. But this is certainly not the predominant case.
One way forward would be to have a team of Federal and State agency staff list existing facilities by cost benefit potential: i.e. MW of efficiency gain projected per $Million invested in upgrades. Distribute the list on the web and ask local officials and interest groups to nominate sites for consideration by Congress, where water rights are public, or by private developers, where appropriate; but, with a special provision. Local citizens are given a opportunity to become stockholders in each private development nominated, with a possibility of taking dividends in green energy futures. Etc.
===== Breaking News Update From Seattle PI News =======
"...the [proposed Federal] budget also calls for the BPA to redirect all revenue from the sale of surplus [hydro-electric] power beyond $500 million to the federal treasury. Analysts say that would drain $1 billion from the BPA over the next 10 years and increase residential power rates by 7 percent".