"Revival or Dam-nation?"

"Currently, the Snohomish County Public Utility District gets 80 percent of its energy from massive dams on the Columbia River. But with big dams and fossil fuels losing favor, it's looking to alternative sources: solar, wind, geothermal and biomass and, perhaps the most controversial of all, small-scale dams, which utility managers consider environmentally and economically viable.

Boosters tout small-scale hydroelectric projects -- defined as generating less than 30 megawatts, or enough to power up to 30,000 homes -- as carbon-neutral and more fish-friendly. And the resource has staggering potential: Just a fraction of the possible sites on Washington's waterways could power millions of homes.

But although utilities, investors and speculators are getting into the game, small-hydro development won't be easy or cheap without policy incentives and tax credits. And not everyone thinks it's a good idea."

Joshua Zaffos reports in the July 27, 2009 issue of High Country News.

Monday, August 3, 2009