By Christine Pratt
WENATCHEE — Mommas, let your babies grow up to be hydropower engineers.
A study released last week predicts that national trends toward cleaner energy could create as many as 700,000 jobs in the hydropower industry nationwide by 2025.
Job gains in Western states, including Washington, could account for 64 percent of total new jobs directly associated with hydropower and 51 percent of new jobs indirectly associated. The study, paid for by the National Hydropower Association, an industry lobby group, was released Thursday, during an association lobbying event in Washington, D.C., and Pennsylvania.
Predictions assume an "accelerated” build-out of untapped hydropower potential.
An accelerated build out would increase the amount of electricity supplied by hydo nationwide from the current 7 percent of about 25 percent, the study shows.
If industry growth continues at its current pace, without extra efforts to tap new sources of hydropower, predicted job growth drops to about 240,000 jobs, the study says.
Electrical and mechanical engineers with hydropower experience are among the most sought-after employees, local official say.
Engineers oversee dam improvements and upgrades and ensure projects come in on time and budget.
Jobs in manufacturing, operations, construction and maintenance are also expected to be in high demand, the study predicts.
Andrew Munro, director of external affairs for Grant PUD, is president of the hydropower association.
Munro says job growth would come through projects that improve efficiency by allowing the industry to produce more electricity with the same amount of water.
More growth would come from adding generation capacity to dams and irrigation systems that currently don’t generate, expanding "pumped storage,” projects, and developing new types of generation, including tidal and wave energy.
According to the study, 3 percent of the country’s 80,000 dams generate electricity.
Most aren’t suited for power generation, but by harnessing those that are and exploiting only 15 percent of the potential new sources, the industry could add 60,000 new megawatts to the current installed capacity of 100,000 megawatts, the study says.
The Chelan PUD has been trying to fill three engineering openings for the past year, and recruiters there expect the shortage to worsen.
"Engineers with power backgrounds are very difficult to find right now,” said Ruth Erwert, recruiting manager for the Chelan PUD. "Students are not studying power engineering. They don’t think it’s cool.”
She said the utility is starting a student internship program to peak their interest in hydro and hopes they stay on after the 4-year program ends.
"Everything that’s going on takes a technical fix these days,” said Bill Dobbins, general manger of the Douglas County PUD. "Gaming design theory is more attractive to kids, not studying the big stuff.”
No engineering openings exist at the utility, but he acknowledges the shortage.
Dobbins says the utility hasn’t had trouble finding local qualified applicants for operations jobs.
For other posts, resumes come in from all over the country.
The Douglas PUD recently hired a fish biologist who came from Maine. Applications have come in from all around the region for a "safety director” job posted on the utility’s Web site.
"We were able to be pretty selective,” he said. "People want to work here. This is an attractive area. These are good projects.”
The hydropower association is leading an effort to have hydropower designated a source of renewable energy, a status now reserved for wind and solar.
The designation would allow hydro utilities to meet proposed renweable energy quotas without costly investments in wind or solar.
The study’s release coincides with a debate in congress of the National Energy Bill, which currently identifies hydro as a renewable resource, Munro said.
Rich Riazzi, general manager of Chelan PUD, attended last week’s lobbying effort.
He says a renewable designation for hydro could allow the utlity to sell its surplus power at higher rates.
More revenue would create jobs by justifing more investment improved dam efficiencies, he said.
"With efficiency upgrades at the PUDs and the BPA (Bonneville Power Administration) — there’s a ton of opportunity there,” he said. "For us, the importance is of hydro as a renewable. We want it to be recognized as a clean, renewable resource.”
Christine Pratt: 665-1173