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Hydropower Lights Up Our Lives

June 13, 2017

Picture of Leaburg Dam with a Hydro Power Flows Here logo

We are fortunate to have one of the cleanest power portfolios in the nation, with almost no electricity sourced from fossil fuels. How much do you know about our community's primary power resource—clean, renewable hydropower?

We have a lot to appreciate here in Eugene, from our beautiful parks and open spaces, to world class sports, great craft beer, clean water, and beautiful weather (well, for at least a few months of the year). When you think of all the things that make Eugene a great place to live, one thing you might not immediately consider is our energy source. If you are an EWEB customer, you're experiencing the benefits of hydropower, maybe without even realizing it.

Our beautiful local rivers not only support diverse recreation, vibrant farms, and abundant fish and wildlife, but they also are our primary source of clean, reliable and affordable energy.

Hydropower is a form of renewable energy that uses water stored in dams, or flowing in rivers, to create electricity. Falling or flowing water spins a turbine, activating a generator that converts the energy into electricity, which is then fed into the electrical grid to be used by homes and businesses.

Nearly 80 percent of Eugene's power comes from hydroelectric projects.

EWEB customers own or co-own four such projects: Leaburg, Stone Creek, Walterville and Carmen-Smith. The Carmen-Smith Hydroelectric Project, located 70 miles east of Eugene on the upper McKenzie River is our largest utility-owned power source, and has reliably served Eugene with low-cost hydropower since 1963.

Carmen-Smith helps us manage electricity prices because the generator can ramp up and down to meet our customers' peak energy needs. In other words, Carmen-Smith operates when our community needs power the most and when buying that power on the wholesale market would be most expensive.

Our region's hydroelectric plants are valuable also as a carbon-free generation resource. Because it's fueled by water, the Northwest's hydroelectric power base does not produce air pollution or greenhouse gas emissions. Thanks to hydropower, the region is able to avoid the greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to more than 10 million cars. That means we're all breathing easier thanks to the clean air benefits of hydropower.

Resiliency is another key benefit of our local hydro generation projects. We are working on building a 'resilient spine' in our electric transmission system. The idea is to enable us to move power from local generating resources to critical facilities, such as hospitals and public safety agencies, in an emergency. With about 110 MW of capacity, reliable and locally-controlled Carmen-Smith plays a significant role in this concept.

This month, we're joining Bonneville Power Administration (BPA) and other Pacific Northwest utilities that use hydropower in promoting Hydropower Flows Here, an education and information campaign about the various attributes of this renewable, clean, reliable source of electricity that powers nearly 60 percent of Northwest homes and businesses. Here are some interesting hydro facts from BPA:

Hydropower is efficient. Hydropower plants at dams convert about 90 percent of the energy in falling water into electrical energy. By comparison, fossil-fueled plants lose more than half of the energy content of their fuel as waste heat and gases.

Hydropower is secure. Water from our rivers is largely a domestic resource that is not subject to disruptions from foreign suppliers, cost fluctuations in power markets, international political crises or transportation outages.

Hydropower is flexible. By adjusting the amount of water flowing through the dams, hydropower can be increased or decreased very quickly to meet changes in demand for power. This meets a fundamental requirement of all electric grids, which is that demand must exactly match supply at all times to keep the system stable.

Hydropower allows for the growth of other renewable resources. Hydropower is a great "back-up" for wind and solar power. For example, it can be ramped up to meet demand when the wind is not blowing, and dialed down at times of high winds.

Hydropower is affordable. Because hydropower costs less than most energy sources, states that get the majority of their electricity from hydropower—like Idaho, Washington and Oregon—have lower energy bills than the rest of the country.

The next time you turn on the light switch, make a pot of coffee or charge your electric vehicle, remember that "Hydropower Flows Here!"

Check out an infographic of where your power comes from.