The Republican Policy Committee is an advisory group to GOP members in the U.S. House. Its two task forces, law enforcement and millennials, assess policy issues that could lead to legislation. For the past couple of years, the Millennial Task Force has been looking at young people in the workplace and how they are affecting the economy. Chaired by northern New York Congresswoman Elise Stefanik of the 21st district, the panel held a hearing Monday on the challenges and opportunities for millennials in the hydropower industry.
The goal of the task force hearing was to assess the opportunities and challenges the hydropower industry has in recruiting millennial workers. Representative Elise Stefanik said they have learned in previous meetings that workplaces are becoming more dynamic as millennials change how they consume products including energy. She said that is leading to more demand for renewables, resulting in more job opportunities in that sector. “Just last year the renewable energy reached its highest ever production levels with hydropower accounting for 25 percent, more than solar and wind combined. What makes these totals even more promising is the potential for massive growth within the hydropower sector. To make this expansion a reality the hydropower industry needs a robust workforce. In fact some reports indicate there could be over one million jobs in the hydropower sector if the industry meets its domestic potential. Unfortunately the hydropower industry is facing an aging workforce and has not been able to attract as many millennials as solar and wind sectors have.”
Citizens for Responsible Energy Solutions Director of Policy Charles Hernick says hydropower offers a number of emerging technologies that meet the eco-concerns of millennials. “We’re very familiar with the iconic and conventional hydropower technologies: dams. This type of conventional hydropower project represents the clear majority of U.S. hydropower generation. But the frontier of hydropower looks quite different and leaves behind many of the environmental and social challenges that building dams creates. The future of hydropower includes ocean wave, tidal and hydro-kinetic power. It also includes run of the river approaches that maximize power generation and minimize disruptions to the river that affect local economies and often affect fishery-dependant economies miles away.”
Brookfield Renewable Director of Northeast Operations Justin Truedell reinforced that hydro has been stereotyped as old-fashioned, and therefore does not get its fair share of the clean power spotlight nor interest as a job opportunity. “Across the U.S. hydro has been part of the energy mix of most states for many decades. Interestingly however hydropower’s importance to the electric grid is increasing as it rapidly evolves and decarbonizes. Many millennials may not recognize the importance of hydropower as a base load, flexible and non-emitting resource that is actively enabling the grid of the future.”
Stefanik said the hearing highlights numerous opportunities for young people. “Part of the challenge that hydo faces is an awareness challenge. Hopefully this is one small step in coming up with policy solutions to help bridge that gap. I think the themes that we touched on in terms of workforce development, how do you develop that pipeline at each step, whether it’s graduating from high school, graduating from a vocational or a technical program, graduating as an undergrad or in graduate school, that there are opportunities out there in hydro and those opportunities are only going to grow.”
According to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ National Inventory of Dams, there are over 80,000 dams 3 feet or higher in the country. About 2,500 produce hydropower.