Hydro Power Gives Michigan a Renewable Energy Advantage

Published December 23, 2014

Many states are scrambling to identify low-emission power sources to comply with federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) restrictions on carbon dioxide emissions, but Michigan is blessed with affordable, reliable, zero-emission hydro power to help meet the restrictions. Policymakers in the Great Lakes State would be wise to take advantage of these hydro power resources.

In 1880, Michigan demonstrated the potential for hydro power when a hydroelectric turbine in Grand Rapids provided the first public demonstration of hydro power in the United States. Continuing to harness the power of water and gravity, Michigan now has dozens of small hydroelectric dams producing power. Nevertheless, Michigan is underutilizing its available hydro resources, as hydro power currently contributes less than one percent of the state’s electricity generation.

Hydro power is the least expensive electricity source, with production costs substantially lower than wind, solar, nuclear, and natural gas. Hydro power also tends to be less expensive than coal power, which has long been the backbone of U.S. electricity generation. Washington and Idaho are perfect examples of the economic benefits of hydro power, as the two states rely on it more than all other states, and as a result, the two states rank first and fifth in the nation, respectively, for lowest electricity prices. With less money required to purchase electricity, businesses have more money available to hire additional workers, and individual consumers have more money available to purchase food, clothing, housing, health care, and other consumer goods.

Hydro power provides significant environmental benefits in addition to cost advantages. Unlike wind and solar, hydro power is reliable and not dependent on when fickle winds blow and when darkness doesn’t obscure the sun. Also, hydro power is a totally clean energy source, producing no carbon dioxide or other emissions. To the extent hydroelectric dams impact the environment, by changing portions of streams and rivers into ponds and lakes, the impact is much smaller and more benign than the towering wind turbines that disfigure thousands of square miles of formerly pristine American lands and kill 1.5 million birds and bats in the United States each year.

Earlier this year, EPA announced plans to require a 30-percent reduction in nationwide power plant carbon dioxide emissions. EPA hit Michigan especially hard, requiring a 32 percent reduction. Many states have few hydro power resources and will have little choice but to turn to expensive, unreliable, environmentally destructive wind power to meet the EPA mandates. By contrast, Michigan officials can and should take advantage of available hydro power resources in the state. Doing so will produce environmental advantages over wind power, ensure a reliable supply of on-demand, zero-emissions electricity, and give Michigan businesses and consumers a competitive advantage over states forced to rely on more expensive means of reducing carbon dioxide emissions.

Even without the new EPA mandates, hydro power is a good deal for Michigan. With EPA ramping up its carbon dioxide restrictions, adding more hydro power is a no-brainer.