Dammed: The Future of Northwest US Hydropower in the Era of Climate Change

The Sustainability Transformation programme area is pleased to host Nik Janos at the University of Stavanger during 11.04.2023-26.04.2023. As part of this stay, Nik Janos will offer a Governing Energy Transitions (GET)-together seminar during 12:15-13:30 on Monday, 24 April, at the UiS library. He will describe and discuss his work on conflicts over low-carbon hydroelectric power in the Northwest United States.

Nik Janos is a professor of sociology at California State University Chico. He earned his Ph.D. from University of California Santa Cruz and his work focuses on urbanisation and environmental governance in the Northwest United States.

At a time when more and more people recognise the need to decarbonise electricity production, tensions are emerging around low-carbon electricity sources, the very sources that promise to lead to the end of fossil fuels. Nik’s work is motivated by one central question: how do people understand and work through the tension between environmental restoration and Indigenous sovereignty, and the role that hydroelectric dams perform in the rapid decarbonisation needed to avert catastrophic climate change? 

Proponents of hydropower argue that these dams play a new and important role in low-carbon energy production. In fact, hydroelectric power accounts for a significant portion, and at times a majority, of electricity in Washington, Oregon, and Idaho. This means that for millions of people and thousands of businesses, their primary electricity comes from inexpensive, low-carbon energy. What’s more, hydroelectric dams are a form of public power since most are owned by municipal and federal agencies, rather than private corporations. 

Opponents are criticising the negative ecological and social impacts of these dams, specifically the impacts on endangered and threatened species, including salmon, bull trout, steelhead, and orcas, and the impact on tribal sovereignty in the region. There are now dam removal campaigns in every state of the Northwest. 

The dynamics of these conflicts are poised to shape the course of the energy transition in the region and how people manage competing social and environmental values. At the end of the presentation, tentative comparisons will be made between the US Northwest hydropower system and the Norwegian one, including similar controversies in Norway over energy transition and social justice.

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