Idaho Senator James Risch on Energy in the Northwest

In 2009 we interviewed Idaho Senator James Risch for the Council Quarterly on a number of topics, including the state of the region's energy portfolio.

Q: The Northwest's long history of generating electricity from hydroelectric dams, combined with our acquisition of nearly 4,000 megawatts of energy efficiency over the past 30 years has kept our power rates low and reduced our reliance on fossil fuel. But Idaho and other parts of the Northwest are now sometimes net energy importers when demand exceeds available regional supplies. Do you believe we have the right mix of hydropower, energy efficiency, renewable energy resources, and dispatchable thermal baseload power in our current power system?

Risch: The unique nature of power generation in the Northwest highlights why any national plan would be harmful to our region. We have long exploited clean sources of power. Incredibly, people in Washington, D.C. don't see falling water as a renewable resource. They don't see our biomass as a renewable resource and, of course, it is all for political purposes to advertise their own part of the country to our disadvantage. This is our reward for the good stewardship we have shown.

The fact that we sometimes import energy from other regions is due in part to regulations crafted by Washington, D.C. bureaucrats that make it easier to build a new coal-fired plant than to upgrade a hydroelectric facility. If you care about air quality, that isn't right. Every time a zero-emission dam needs to be relicensed, environmental lawsuits hold up the process. We had to fight tooth and nail to even get hydroelectric power into the dialogue. Some of my Senate colleagues think a piece of wood off of federal land isn't a renewable resource but a piece of wood off of private land is. So it's hard to argue that a policy crafted in Washington, D.C. would be good for the Northwest when Washington, D.C. has no appreciation of our stewardship.

We have a good mix right now, but we need more of all of the above to meet our future needs. We can increase the amount of electricity from hydropower sources by upgrading equipment or adding turbines to existing dams. That should be a no-brainer. It wouldn't emit any pollutants into the atmosphere. We also have existing biomass resources that could provide baseline power to the region, but those attempts are opposed by people who claim to want "renewable" energy which they limit by definition to wind and solar. We can add immeasurably to energy by constructing nuclear power plants. Again, if we are cleaning up the air, let's actually get it done.