Hydroelectricity is Heading East

Hydroelectricity has quickly become one of the most prominent forms of clean energy to grace the global industry. In terms of renewable energy, it is the one most commonly used, as it harnesses the power of water to generate enough electricity to provide energy to over 28 million people worldwide. It has become a staple in the American energy markets as well: in 2008, the United States was named the fourth largest producer of hydroelectric power according to the International Energy Agency. While much of this form of renewable energy is produced along the west coast in Oregon, California, and Washington state, it has quickly grown within the states east of the Mississippi as well, operating hydropower plants in at least 34 states across the United States.

New York, for example, boasts of having the largest rate of production of hydroelectricity east of the Rockies, producing energy from more than 300 hydroelectric generating stations, which accounts for nearly 20 percent of the state’s demand for electricity. Niagara Falls has functioned as a generator of hydropower for over a century, providing a cost-effective solution to a rising demand for electricity and a falling supply of environmentally-taxing fossil fuels. The St. Lawrence Power Project functions alongside Niagara Falls as one of the largest hydropower producers in the state, and both are owned by the New York Power Authority. While these two power plants produce the largest share of hydropower for New York, the remaining plants are small and often independently operated by private companies seeking to revolutionize the electric grid and push toward a future in reliable, inexpensive energy production in the state. Comparable projects in Vermont and New Hampshire have also approached the potential for hydropower with interest, as hydroelectricity is among the least expensive of options for renewable energy.

The Northeast is not the only region east of the Rockies exploring hydropower. In terms of the production of renewable energy, the state of Tennessee boasts of hydroelectricity comprising 91 percent of its renewable energy resources, which have made gains enough in the past several years for hydropower to account for 15 percent of all energy produced in the state in 2013. As of the same year, the state boasted of more than 1,000 electricity producing dams within the state, many of which give life to other industries in the often-rural communities around them. Sitting in close proximity to Tennessee is Alabama, which in 2013 ranked fifth among all states in terms of renewable energy production. Alabama has seen a particular push in favor of hydroelectricity, which makes up nearly 80 percent of its total renewable energy resources, though the maintenance of more than 2,000 electricity-producing dams throughout the state.

As of 2016, both Alabama and New York have served among the top five of hydropower-producing states in the United States. In Maine as well, approximately 25 percent of the electricity produced can be attributed to hydropowered plants. These numbers simply go to show that hydroelectricity is a tangible option for harnessing clean, renewable energy across the United States. While there will always be environmental effects on the world around these plants, they have far more benefits to the economy and far fewer consequences than non-renewable forms of energy that might have been favored in the past. Hydroelectricity does not have to be a regional beast; the capabilities are there nationwide if we the people choose to embrace them.

Sage Kafsky