The drought worsened this past week in the Midwest and the Plains, but the region’s hydroelectric power has not diminished because abundant 2011 rain and snow filled reservoirs. Nearly a quarter of the United States is enduring “extreme” to “exceptional” drought, according to the weekly U.S. Drought Monitor published by the National Drought Mitigation Center. That’s the highest percentage in those categories since record-keeping began in 2000. The entire states of Arizona, Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska, Oklahoma and Colorado are in drought. Most of South Dakota is included in this drought measurement.
But hydroelectric power generated by our six big dams on the Missouri River in the Dakotas and Montana was 12% above normal, providing enough energy in July to power 90,000 homes for a year. Hydro power is our country’s largest, most reliable, and least cost renewable energy resource. It far outpaces wind and solar in all three of those performance standards despite an aging infrastructure in need of more federal support than it has received for many years.
Federal power customers have invested nearly $500 million in direct upfront contributions to provide needed support for continued reliable hydro power operations. Federal power customers through their rates pay all of the costs allocated to hydro power – including operations, maintenance, repairs, rehabs, replacements, as well as principal and interest on the federal investment in these facilities.