Harvesting Renewable Energy Along the Columbia Gorge
While driving through the Columbia River Gorge for the first time, I couldn’t help but be captivated by its natural beauty and the presence of renewable energy sources. Located between the states of Oregon and Washington in the United States, volcanic activity, massive floods, and erosion formed the Columbia River Gorge over eons. During my trip to Oregon, I drove along the Gorge multiple times and discovered its natural wonders, like dramatic waterfalls, lush forests, and strong winds. I found that this area is also a prime location for harnessing the power of nature to generate renewable energy such as hydropower and wind energy. I’ve learned that although these types of energy production offer an alternative to fossil fuels, they also have downsides for both communities and the environment. Talking about these nuances over a lime is crucial in moving towards a Just Energy Transition.
Lime with Raeann is a blog series dedicated to sharing a Trini perspective on sustainability and environmental justice topics. Raeann Gervais is an environmental biologist from Trinidad working as a fellow with Willamette Partnership. She has a degree in Environmental Science and Sustainable Technology from the University of the West Indies and is part of the Caribbean Climate Justice Leaders Academy.
Why lime? Transformative sustainability and environmental justice is going to take all of us working together over multiple generations. Much of the work is extremely urgent and challenging, yet a true paradigm shift requires us to share knowledge, experience, and ideas across cultures and between friends over a lime. Learn more about liming here.
The Columbia River, the largest river in the Pacific Northwest, is a vital part of the region and a powerhouse for renewable energy. The river’s swift currents and elevation changes are harnessed through hydroelectric dams to generate electricity. The Bonneville Dam, located in the Columbia River Gorge, is one of the most famous hydropower facilities in the area. The dams also offer flood control measures, mitigating potential risks to nearby communities. Additionally, the controlled release of water supports irrigation systems vital for agriculture, facilitating increased crop production while reducing the reliance on rainwater.
It is important to acknowledge that hydropower development in the Columbia River Gorge has not been without its share of controversy. The most notable and heartbreaking consequence was the covering of Celilo Falls, a sacred and historically significant waterfall for the Native American fishing community. The construction of The Dalles Dam in 1957 led to the intentional flooding of Celilo Falls, which resulted in the devastation of a crucial cultural and spiritual site for Native American tribes. It was a sacred place where communities gathered for fishing, trade, and ceremonies, forging strong connections with nature and each other. The construction of the dams has impacted the Columbia River’s ecosystem and native fish populations, disrupting migratory patterns and disturbing the delicate balance of aquatic life. Salmon is one of the main species of fish for Native American fishing and cultural traditions in the Pacific Northwest and the population of this fish has significantly dropped as a result of these dams.
The Columbia River Gorge is known for its consistently strong winds, making it an ideal location for wind energy generation. The wind farms in the Columbia River Gorge are a source of clean energy that is beneficial for the environment and helps power homes and businesses throughout the Pacific Northwest. The use of wind energy has been steadily increasing in the region, and it is inspiring to see the Columbia River Gorge playing such a crucial role in this trend.
Despite my fascination with these wind farms, I read that they are opposed by many. The public is concerned that these wind turbines harm the area’s scenic resources. The massive turbines are visible for miles and decrease the unique qualities that attract tourists worldwide, including beautiful mountain views, pastoral lands, and the Columbia River. Furthermore, they threaten protected wildlife. Finally, wind farms impact the local tourism economy, property values, and traffic during construction.
The Columbia River Gorge shows the potential of harnessing nature’s power for sustainable energy generation. Through hydropower and wind energy, this region showcases a diverse range of renewable energy sources that can reduce the environmental impact of energy consumption by replacing sources that rely on fossil fuels and contribute to the local economy. While recognizing the great value of hydropower and wind energy as renewable energy sources, it is important to ensure that future projects prioritize considerations of environmental, cultural, and social impacts. We must find a balance that acknowledges the importance of renewable energy while preserving our natural and cultural heritage through respectful collaboration with Indigenous communities.