The Pacific Northwest conjures up all sorts of Americana, from Lewis and Clark to the Cascade Mountains to the famous Grand Coulee Dam – the largest hydroelectric power plant in the United States capable of generating enough power for 2.3 million homes. That’s why it is fitting during this Independence Day week that we focus on this region as we conclude our Clean Energy Forward blog series examining clean energy’s economic potential in different parts of the country.
Hydropower is the largest clean energy source in two Pacific Northwest states – Washington and Oregon. In fact, Washington state is the top producer of hydroelectric power in the country, followed immediately by Oregon. In 2018, 70% of Oregon’s utility scale net electricity generation was powered by hydroelectricity and other renewable sources.
And just this week, one of the region’s great conservative leaders, U.S. Representative Cathy McMorris-Rodgers (R-WA) introduced the Hydropower Clean Energy Future Act, which could mark a new era for America’s oldest source of renewable energy. Her legislation will expand hydropower production, modernize the licensing process, promote next-generation technologies, and reduce market barriers. CRES Executive Director Heather Reams commended Representative McMorris-Rodgers for championing the legislation and called the new bill, “a critical step forward to create jobs and bolster American’s competitiveness in the energy sector.”
The diverse landscape in the Pacific Northwest is also home to numerous other renewable energy sources including nuclear, natural gas, biomass, wind, and solar. U.S. Representative Dan Newhouse (R-WA) is leading the way on nuclear energy. He previously introduced the Nuclear Energy Research and Development Act, which passed in the House Science, Space, and Technology Subcommittee on Energy in March. The bipartisan bill will increase development of nuclear reactors, invest in research programs, and provide more funding for training nuclear engineers.
In Oregon, U.S. Representative Greg Walden (R-OR), ranking member of the Energy and Commerce Committee, is advocating for investment in the clean energy sector as a way to boost U.S. manufacturing, strengthen our national security, and stimulate the national economy. A key component of Representative Walden’s clean energy platform is forest management. Improving forest management means decreasing the risk of forest fires and resulting emissions. In 2019, Representative Walden introduced the Resilient Federal Forests Act, which aims to make forest management projects more cost efficient and reduce the risk of fires in Oregon and the Pacific Northwest.
Washington and Oregon are fortunate to have conservative leaders like these three lawmakers who promote clean energy legislation, smart conservation and innovation. In fact, both Washington and Oregon are part of the West Coast Electric Highway, which aims to reduce carbon emissions by introducing electric and alternative fuels to the transportation sector.
And as states begin to reopen, creating job opportunities and stimulating economic growth is more important than ever. Before the coronavirus pandemic, the clean energy sector boasted incredibly opportunities for Americans at all skill levels. In 2019, Washington offered 84,000 clean energy jobs. Oregon had over 55,000 clean energy jobs in the same year, including 40,000 energy efficiency jobs and 7,000 renewable energy jobs. However, a recent analysis of U.S. Department of Labor statistics through May found that the pandemic has cost Washington more than 21,000 clean energy jobs accounting for nearly 24 percent of the sector’s workforce, and Oregon’s clean energy industries have lost nearly 10,000 jobs accounting for almost 16 percent of its clean energy workers.
The rich natural resources of the Pacific Northwest give the region an incredible advantage to overcome today’s economic challenges. Yet, additional investment in clean energy is needed to truly stimulate jobs and economic growth in Washington, Oregon and across the country. As Americans celebrate this 4th of July, let us all be mindful of the importance of securing our energy independence and providing a way forward for our country through clean energy.