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Category: Hydroelectricity

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Montana’s Clean Energy Profile

Montana MountainsI’m starting to wonder if ‘MT’ standing for both Montana and Mountain was intentional. On the way into Montana on our summer trip, we took Interstate 90 east, until heading north on Interstate 95 through the Kaniksu National Forest. I say this as an understatement, since even from the road, we saw chipmunks, a bald eagle(!), millions of pine trees, and wide, rocky streams passing through more mountains than I’ve ever seen in my lifetime.

We finally got across the state, and into the dense Kootenai forest, we unpacked for one night, hoping we may still be able to acquire one of the non-reservable, first-come-first-serve campgrounds within Glacier National Park.

Having seen a large portion of the state at this point, I would have guessed there would be lots of hydro power and dams to utilize the rivers running rampant throughout the state – and, I would have been right! Check out the Chart below showing the Energy Generation of Montana per month, as of June 2021:

Montana Energy Generation

Montana Net Electricity Generation by Source, per Month (click on the photo to learn more).

While they aren’t producing quite as much Hydro electricity as Washington (see comparable chart, here: https://www.eia.gov/state/?sid=WA#tabs-4), it’s certainly impressive that this beautiful state is leveraging it’s streams and rivers for even more than fly-fishing. Another impressive state from their profile on EIA.gov, was that “In 2019, Montana ranked among the top 10 states with the largest share of electricity generated from renewables, about 45%. Montana is also the sixth-largest producer of hydroelectric power in the nation, and 6 of the state’s 10 largest generating plants produce hydropower” (https://www.eia.gov/state/?sid=MT#tabs-1).

I almost laughed out loud upon reading this ‘Quick Fact’ about Montana’s energy consumption: “Montana’s temperature extremes and its small population contribute to the state’s residential sector having the second-highest per capita energy consumption of any state, behind only North Dakota” (https://www.eia.gov/state/?sid=MT#tabs-1) – because it couldn’t be truer than if I’d visited the Sahara desert (see what I mean, here: https://www.livescience.com/why-do-deserts-get-cold-at-night.html).

On our first day in Montana, the high temp was roughly 90 degrees Fahrenheit, however the very next day the temperatures had dropped drastically – to a high in the mid-sixties Fahrenheit, and lows in the mid-thirties Fahrenheit at night (in August no less!) – and that was before we even arrived in the mountains of Glacier National Park! Perhaps had I studied this information prior to visiting Montana, I would have known better and brought a few more long-johns and layers. Still, we survived snuggling through the nights with our two dogs, and spent the next few days walking the foothills of the Apgar campground within Glacier National Park – an undeniably gorgeous site – and well worth the temperature changes.

I fully understood why residents of this state were so keen on protecting it – via clean energy and hydroelectricity production, or through private and federal land protections, like those we were camping in (not to mention several throughout the state: https://www.visitmt.com/).

It’s a beautiful destination and as long as you have a small, butane stove for camping, or a well-ventilated fire place inside of your home, you should be set to stay warm in the cooler months, which apparently includes late August. In the cooler winter months, it’s likely you will need natural gas to power many appliances and heat your home. When it comes to finding a hot shower while camping in Montana however, you’re on your own! Good luck, and stay warm.

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The History of Hydro

We’ve discussed several different historical inventions which allow modern-day life to flourish (check out a few, here: https://suntexllc.com/?s=History), however for some odd reason I don’t believe we’ve covered hydro-electricity very extensively in the past.

Similar to our discoveries regarding Wind Power (see previous blog post, here: https://suntexllc.com/2925-2/), Hydro power has been around for a really long time. The very first watermills and irrigation systems are thought to have been built around 4000 BC and 3000 BC, respectively, at least according to ThoughtCo.com and Energy.gov (https://www.thoughtco.com/history-of-waterwheel-4077881, https://www.energy.gov/eere/water/history-hydropower). According to the Energy.gov article, “The Greeks used water wheels for grinding wheat into flour more than 2,000 years ago, while the Egyptians used Archimedes water screws for irrigation during the third century B.C.” Please do read up on each of those links for more details! It’s safe to say this technology has been around for some time, and improved drastically with the advancements in technology made over the past century.

Energy.gov

Also check out this info-graphic (left) from the Energy.gov link shown above to learn more about the timeline of events that led to modern-day hydro-power plants.

Hydro energy generation US

Hydro-electricity Generation in the US from 1950-2020 (click on chart to learn more)

While it’s difficult to say just how rapidly this technology spread across the globe, hydro-power now makes up roughly 25% of the total energy generation in the United States today, according to EIA.gov (https://www.eia.gov/energyexplained/hydropower/); see the chart below for a detailed look:

Then again, why should we care in the first place about hydro power?

History of Hydro Power

Well, look no further than to the U.S. Energy department for answers to that question (https://www.energy.gov/eere/water/benefits-hydropower), which explains several of the advantages to using hydro power, not least importantly that they can generate electricity almost on demand, “Hydroelectric power is flexible. Some hydropower facilities can quickly go from zero power to maximum output. Because hydropower plants can generate power to the grid immediately, they provide essential backup power during major electricity outages or disruptions” (https://www.energy.gov/eere/water/benefits-hydropower).

Did you ever get the feeling in school that you were learning things that would never apply in your daily life, only to find that every once in a while, it really does make sense why you learned it in the first place? I feel like everything in the renewable energy industry follows that same trend. While it may seem like common sense, that moving water could produce electricity and thus we should all use it, Texans and Californians know that isn’t always possible. Hydro power only works with water, and if we use too much water too quickly, we’ll drain our resources – which could take a while to recover to say the least. Therefore it’s wise to use the common-sense energy sources available locally, and leverage whatever your local strengths might be. For this writer, I’m hoping to see healthy Hydro-power in the Pacific NW that doesn’t interrupt those famous salmon patterns, as well as a lot more solar power in Texas, soaking in that Texas sun for at least eight months out of the year.

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Washington Energy Profile and the Beauty of Hydroelectric Dams

WashingtonIf you’ve ever been to Washington, especially having come from Texas, one thing becomes clear very quickly: there is a lot of water in this state! I’m not just talking about the rivers and lakes you’re used to, and not only does this state have a beautiful rocky coastline, but there is also tons of rainfall all year long (73 inches of rain per year on average, according to: https://www.bestplaces.net/climate/city/washington/index). The beauty of this type of weather pattern of course is that everything within that wet environment is poised to grow tall and wild, and the pines trees and giant blackberry bushes will certainly convince any naysayers!

In fact, when I lived in Seattle, I remember planting dahlias one spring and feeling shocked to find them, along with roses, peonies, poppies, and other native flowers that presumably had been planted before we lived there growing in abundance that fall! I did get tired of the rain from time to time, but I did not ever tire of watching out garden grow and change each season.

Given the hydro-electric dams in Oregon and Idaho, it’s no wonder that Washington, an even wetter state, should prove ahead of the bell-curve on this metric as well. In fact, according to eia.gov (https://www.eia.gov/state/?sid=WA):

  • “The Grand Coulee Dam on Washington’s Columbia River is the largest power plant by generation capacity in the United States, and the seventh-largest hydro-power plant in the world. It can provide 4.2 million households with electricity for one year.”
  • “Washington generated the most electricity from hydropower of any state and accounted for 24% of the nation’s annual utility-scale hydroelectricity generation in 2019.”

Although these figures are certainly impressive, I think the chart below paints an even better picture of just how much of Washington’s energy grid is devoted to hydro-power:

Washington Energy

Washington Energy Consumption Estimates (EIA.gov)

If you’ve been following along with the prior blogs from this week, you already know how this ranks among the other Pacific Northwest states (see Idaho and Oregon’s energy profile posts, here https://suntexllc.com/idaho-oregon-washington-oh-my/). Looking for more details on the state? Feel free to check out the links below:

For more information on hydroelectricity, be sure to check out tomorrow’s post!

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Idaho, Oregon, Washington – Oh my!

ROAD TRIP UPDATES: After our evening arrival in Salt Lake City, we were happy for the easy check-in, delicious dinner, and good night’s sleep at the Radisson Hotel downtown (https://www.radissonhotelsamericas.com/en-us/hotels/radisson-salt-lake-city-downtown). The city itself was warm and vibrant – and nestled in between the glorious mountains of Utah, the views are hard to beat no matter where in the city you stood. We also noticed some of the temples on our way in, which were certainly spectacular views to behold – with the stark white architecture which contrasted perfectly with the green fields and blue mountains surrounding them (featured right). The next part of the journey would take us through Idaho, Oregon, and Washington as well – so in this post and later this week we’ll focus on the PNW energy profiles, and the vast beauty that comprises this part of the country.

Idaho Energy Profile

IdahoBefore traveling through Idaho, I’ll admit I didn’t know much about it beyond some faint idea that they grew potatoes (see Idaho Potatoes, https://idahopotato.com/). Naturally, my imagination led me to believe the state was covered in potato farms and not much else, and while there is certainly farm-land to be found in Idaho, we saw plenty of other vegetation as well! For one, there were tons of streams and rivers throughout – and we even stopped at dog park for Benny and Earl while we were outside of Boise, that was covered in green grass and weeping willows. It was just beautiful, and very peaceful I might add!

Checking out their energy profile on EIA.gov (https://www.eia.gov/state/?sid=ID), we immediately learn that Idaho is a much greener state than anticipated:

  • “In 2019, 76% of the electricity generated in Idaho at utility-scale power plants was produced from renewable energy sources, the third-highest share for any state after Vermont and Maine.”
  • “Idaho is among the five states with the lowest average electricity price, in part because of the large amount of electricity that comes from relatively inexpensive hydro-power, which accounted for 56% of the state’s generation in 2019.”
  • “Idaho’s small population contributes to it being among the 10 states with the lowest total petroleum consumption, but Idaho’s per capita petroleum use is near the national average.”

Perhaps it’s obvious that with a lower total population, (roughly 1.78 M, https://datacommons.org/ranking/Count_Person/State/country/USA?h=geoId%2F16), Idaho has lower overall petroleum consumption rates, however I think it’s still pretty impressive that so much of their state grid is dominated by renewable energy and hydro-power.

Oregon Energy Profile

OregonIt’s no secret that Oregon has a diverse landscape – home to some of the tallest mountains in North America, including Mount Hood (https://www.fs.usda.gov/mthood), as well as counting numerous rivers and waterfalls within it’s vast territory – such as Multnomah Falls (https://www.fs.usda.gov/recarea/crgnsa/recarea/?recid=30026) – it’s no wonder that this state is such a sought-after travel destination for skiers and hikers. Our journey through Oregon this time was short however, and we would only be spending a brief moment passing through the grassy hills and into the pine-forests before arriving in Washington later that same day.

It’s easy to think of Oregon as “just another Pacific Northwest State,” if you’re not from the area, and while there are some regional differences between Oregonians and Washingtonians or Californians, the western-most states do have a lot in common when it comes to energy. Just check out what eia.gov has to say about their devotion to green energy (https://www.eia.gov/state/?sid=OR):

  • “In 2019, 49% of Oregon’s utility-scale electricity net generation came from hydroelectric power, and 62% came from conventional hydroelectric power plants and other renewable energy resources combined.”
  • “In 2019, wind farms produced 11% of Oregon’s electricity net generation from more than 1,900 turbines with more than 3,400 megawatts of installed generating capacity.”
  • “Oregon is a partner in the West Coast Electric Highway along with California, Washington, and British Columbia, Canada. As of December 2020, there were more than 670 public electric vehicle charging stations with a total of more than 1,800 charging outlets in service across Oregon.”

While other states are still trying to build wind farms, Oregon leads the way in wind and hydro-power, and has already begun construction on the electric car infrastructure needed for battery-powered cars to charge and continue to operate on longer trips.

I also found this Quick Fact about Oregon energy interesting (https://www.eia.gov/state/?sid=OR): “Oregon receives more than 90% of the refined products it uses from the Puget Sound refineries in the state of Washington.”

To find out more about Oregon’s energy profile, check out the following links – or share your own insights within the comments section below!

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