Removing the Lower Snake River dams is shortsighted
Oregon Gov. Kate Brown recently released a letter of support for removing the four lower Snake River dams in eastern Washington; an action, if realized, would short-change the environment and electric ratepayers.
The lower Snake River dams, an integral part of the federal Bonneville Power Administration's hydropower system, annually produces 1,000 average megawatts of reliable, carbon-free energy — enough to power over 800,000 Northwest homes, including a half-million in Oregon. Removing the dams would forego a 24/7/365 renewable resource, requiring its replacement with a carbon-emitting resource, ultimately putting 2 million metric tons of carbon in the air annually — equivalent to 421,000 additional passenger cars on the regions' roads.
The adverse impacts of removing the dams would be widely felt throughout the Northwest and here at home. Replacing the energy created by the dams could annually cost an estimated $860 million to ratepayers. To offset the loss of available hydroelectricity would require Central Electric to make market purchases, often energy with higher carbon content, undermining our effort to reach a 100% carbon emission-free portfolio by 2025 — all at a higher cost for ratepayers.
Equally important, dam removal further jeopardizes the Northwest's already tenuous long-term power supply. The Pacific Northwest Utilities Conference Committee's (PNUCC) forecast for 2009 through 2029 highlights the loss of 3,600 megawatts of energy, enough energy to power approximately 3.6 million homes over the next 10 years due to the shutting down of coal-fired power plants. The transition from coal to clean energy is laudable, but not enough wind and solar generating facilities are coming online to offset the anticipated loss of coal generation. Breaching the dams not only exacerbates the shortage of the Northwest's long-term power supply but also takes off-line a renewable baseload generation that serves to backstop intermittent renewables such as solar and wind.
The timing of the governor's letter raises questions too. Why now? Her support for the removal of the dams runs counter to her administration's ongoing efforts to pass comprehensive cap and trade legislation, which calls for reducing greenhouse gas emissions to 45% below 1990 emission levels by 2035 and then 80% by 2050. Breaching the dams would be a significant step backward.
In a matter of days, BPA, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and the Bureau of Reclamation will release a draft Environmental Impact Statement for the federal Columbia River System Operations. Following the National Environmental Policy Act, the study is an analysis of the CRSO's potential effects on species and other natural resources. Her public support for an alternative solution before the release of the study undermines those efforts.
Gov. Brown's letter also claims removing the dams will "simultaneously address both the orca and salmon recovery dilemma" in the region, but cites no evidence to support the claim. Electric ratepayers, however, have invested close to $2 billion in successful fish-passage technology at the dams, which now serve as a model for hydroelectric dams around the world. Per NOAA Fisheries in 2017, the results achieved a juvenile dam passage survival objective of 96% for Chinook salmon and steelhead. We should build on this success, rather than dismantle it.
Removing the lower Snake River dams is shortsighted. For the benefit of the environment, our natural resources, and the ratepayer, Gov. Brown should withdraw her support.
Dave Markham is the president and CEO of Central Electric Cooperative, Inc. He can be reached at 541-312-7753.
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