There seems to be no end to studies about the future of the lower Snake River dams—a critical component of the Federal Columbia River Power System. They produce 1,000 megawatts of firm, reliable, non-carbon-emitting, affordable energy. While it is undisputed the lower Snake River dams played an essential role in keeping the lights on during extreme weather events such as last year’s ice storms and heat wave, there are those who are pushing to breach the dams.
Among them, it seems, are Washington Gov. Jay Inslee and Washington Sen. Patty Murray, who released a hastily commissioned study, “The Lower Snake River Dams: Benefit Replacement Draft Report.” The report’s genesis results from their dissatisfaction with a comprehensive federal agency study that recommended against breaching the dams. The federal study—conducted by some of the nation’s premier electric utility experts and fisheries scientists—took several years to finish.
The Murray-Inslee report was rushed out in a matter of weeks.
Accordingly, Oregon’s electric cooperatives believe it has serious shortcomings. Most notably, the report fails to consider the significant adverse ramifications of breaching the lower Snake River dams: a loss of clean, reliable and affordable power that raises the risk of blackouts and imposes unnecessary financial costs on vulnerable populations.
While the report rightly recognizes Washington and Oregon’s leadership in setting aggressive decarbonization goals for the electricity sector, it ironically fails to acknowledge the region cannot meet them without the carbon-free generation benefits of the lower Snake River dams. Replacing the 1,000 MW will require carbon-intensive energy market purchases to provide firm energy, including a staggering 10% increase in power-related emissions across the Northwest.
The report fails to acknowledge the loss of this generation creates a higher risk of blackouts in the Northwest and increases wholesale electricity rates by approximately 25%, forcing our members to pay several hundred dollars more annually. Oregonians should not have to choose between medicine and food or paying their electric bills.
Finally, the report ignores how the lower Snake River dams have shown that healthy salmon and dams can coexist. Working with regional salmon experts, federal agencies have developed the world’s most advanced fish-passage systems. These measures, financed by the region’s ratepayers, have helped meet specific fish survival targets.
Governor Inslee and Senator Murray have asked for feedback about their report, and Oregon’s electric co-ops have responded. But the bottom line is this: It does not take a scientist to conclude that spending billions of dollars to breach carbon-free resources that provide affordable, reliable power is not in the best interest of our members or the state. It is just plain common sense.
Executive Director Ted Case