Guest Opinions

Idaho Power has good intentions, but calling hydropower ‘clean’ energy is a bit of a leap

Ben Lzicar
Ben Lzicar

I’ve spent my entire life enjoying the lands that Idaho and Oregon have to offer, especially kayaking and fishing the secluded rivers of my two home states. I love technology and development, but also protecting our public lands for future generations to enjoy.

Regarding Idaho Power’s recent announcement for a goal of 100 percent “clean” energy by 2045, it is certainly ambitious – but not for the reasons most people would think. Idaho Power CEO Darrel Anderson said, “We have a great head start, thanks to our clean hydropower plants that produce almost half the energy our customers use.” The claim that hydropower is a “clean” source of energy is concerning given the numerous environmental impacts of this energy source.

So what, exactly, does Idaho Power consider clean?

Just a few months ago the Idaho Statesman wrote an article about how Idaho steelhead “could be gone in a generation,” and this isn’t because of wind turbines or solar power, it’s because of Idaho Power dams. Not only are the lives of native Idaho salmon teetering thanks to these “clean” sources of energy, but the health of our Pacific orca populations is suffering because of the ever-declining salmon numbers as well.

Even if we forget about the salmon and orcas threatened by the existence of these dams, we need to remember that hundreds of miles of healthy and vital riparian habitat was destroyed when they were constructed over half a century ago. This forever altered our regional landscape, and displaced countless other species with a ripple effect on the local habitat. Using “clean” to describe the destruction of important ecosystems is a new and alarming low.

Dam proponents also like to tout the idea that they don’t produce greenhouse gases, but there have been studies that show dams produce C02 and methane gases from the bodies of water that are backed up. Billions of tons annually as a matter of fact, about 1.3 percent of all human-caused releases. And while this number seems small, when you consider that hydropower produces only about one-tenth of the world’s energy, that 1.3 percent becomes a significant number, and it’s certainly not a “clean” number.

I am not trying to detract from the vital goal of relying entirely on clean energy, and I applaud Idaho Power for all of the other great strides the utility has made with solar and wind plants. But moving the goalposts back by calling dams “clean” isn’t doing anyone good. If we’re really going to start caring about the impact we have on our environment, we really need to look from the ground up – or if we were salmon, from the dam up.

Ben Lzicar, of Boise, is a Micron employee and business owner.