Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers has been a champion of protecting the four Lower Snake River Dams that provide reliable, affordable clean energy to co-op consumer-members throughout the Pacific Northwest, electric cooperative leaders say.

“The congresswoman understands how vital those lower dams are,” says Andy Barth, government affairs and community relations manager at Inland Power and Light Co. in Spokane.

“They provide enough power to keep our lights on and our heaters and air conditioners running. They also help ensure our irrigation members have the power to grow the food that literally goes around the world. The simple truth is, without those dams, we wouldn’t have enough power.”

Hydropower is the source of nearly 70% of the electricity generated in the state.

Rodgers, a 54-year-old Republican who serves as chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, introduced legislation in March with Rep. Dan Newhouse, R-Wash., to preserve the dams and boost energy production along the entire Columbia River System. The bill, the Northwest Energy Security Act, has also been introduced in the Senate.

The legislation requires the Federal Columbia River Power System to be operated in accordance with a 2020 environmental impact statement record of decision by federal agencies that protects the power and navigation benefits of the dams while requiring some changes in their operation to help save endangered salmon.

“It’s time to recognize that salmon runs are improving at record rates thanks to our mitigation efforts and positive ocean conditions and that the dams provide clean and reliable energy that powers our homes and businesses,” Rodgers said when she introduced her bill. “That’s something worth protecting.”

A reliable power supply is especially important in a state like Washington, which has helped raise demand for electricity with its aggressive adoption of electric vehicle technology, says Paul Griffin, executive director of the Washington Rural Electric Cooperative Association.

“We’re on the precipice right now of not having enough power to meet demand,” Griffin says. “If we got rid of an essential resource like the dams, we’d really be in trouble. We’d be facing the potential of brownouts. That’s why the strong advocacy by the congresswoman on behalf of the dams has been so crucial.”

Rodgers led a field hearing on the importance of the Lower Snake River Dams in Richland, Washington, in late June to help bring attention to the issue. The hearing helped highlight the fact that electricity rates at Inland Power and other Northwest utilities are among the lowest 1% in the nation because of hydropower provided by the federal dams, Barth says. Inland Power has more than 40,000 members and is the largest electric co-op in Washington.

“If we lose our hydropower, not only do our affordable rates go away, but our reliability tanks,” Barth says.

Rodgers also introduced the Hydropower Clean Energy Future Act in June to streamline the licensing process for new hydropower projects through the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

“The Hydropower Clean Energy Future Act preserves our existing hydropower fleet and brings more power online by reforming the licensing process and promoting the innovation necessary to usher in the next generation of hydro technology,” she said when she introduced the bill.

Rodgers has always been responsive to the needs of co-ops and their members, Barth says.

“The congresswoman is always asking, ‘How’s Inland? What does Inland need?’” Barth says. “And it’s not just something to say to check off a box. She really wants to know.”

Rodgers says co-ops in eastern Washington “play a critical role in ensuring every home and business has access to clean, reliable, and affordable energy that keeps the lights on and powers every aspect of our lives.”

“Their efforts to strengthen our grid and ensure affordability, especially in our rural communities, is what gives our region its competitive edge to win the future,” she says. “I’m grateful for their partnership as I continue leading on this issue in the People’s House.”