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CEO DATELINE – Hydropower group reaches dam deal with environmentalists

Oct. 13, 2020
By Walt Williams

The National Hydropower Association has reached an agreement with some of the industry’s most ardent environmental opponents to reduce the impacts of dams on the nation’s waterways while boosting renewable energy.

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The agreement, first reported by The New York Times on Tuesday, was the result of two years of negotiations. The environmental groups that signed the document will continue to oppose the creation of new dams, but they agreed to back a set of policy measures to expand the renewable energy generated by dams already in place. In return, the hydropower industry will take steps to reduce the environmental impacts of their facilities and remove unprofitable dams.

Hydropower is a source of carbon-free electricity but comes at the cost of damming up rivers and harming fish populations. Environmentalists have long clashed with the industry, but with concern about climate change now at the forefront the two sides found common ground to reach an agreement.

“The climate crisis has become a lot more acute and we recognize that we need to generate carbon-free energy whenever and wherever we can,” Bob Irvin, president of the conservation group American Rivers, told the Times. “And we do see that hydropower has a role to play there.”

American Rivers, the World Wildlife Fund and the Union of Concerned Scientists signed the agreement. The Nature Conservancy has also signed on as a “participant,” saying it was not ready to support the full statement but will continue to engage in dialogue about hydropower, the Times reported.

The newspaper noted the two sides still have a long way to go in terms of overcoming decades of political clashes, but both are seeing tensions ease.

“The rhetoric has definitely shifted and is becoming more thoughtful,” NHA CEO Malcolm Woolf said. “We’re now willing to talk about removing uneconomic dams, and environmentalists are no longer talking about all hydropower being bad.”