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This dam deal will cost you

Pacific Power, the federal government and the states of Oregon and California on Thursday announced a preliminary agreement that will lead to the destruction of four hydroelectric dams on the Klamath River. All the details and ramifications are not yet known, but the deal sounds like bad news for consumers.

Pacific put a positive spin on it, saying the agreement protected consumers from liability associated with any dam removal and also “limits the amount customers would pay toward environmental improvements and dam removal.”

That sounds suspicious. Why should Pacific customers, including those in the mid-valley, have any liability or incur any higher costs at all from a decision that limits the supply of electric power and likely will contribute to raising their rates?

American Rivers, a conservation organization that is one of the driving forces behind getting rid of the dams, said Pacific agreed to contribute up to $200 million to cover the cost of taking the dams out. “Dam removal funds,” it said, “would be obtained from ratepayers in Oregon and California before removal begins. The impact to customer bills will be less than 1 percent.”

But that’s not all. If the removal costs more than Pacific is obliged to pay, Oregon and California together would pay up to another $250 million. That money, too, would come from the people, many of them the same ones who also will pay higher prices for electricity.

The first of the dams was built in 1908, the fourth and last in 1962. It’s a mystery how recent salmon die-offs and water shortages can be blamed on a system that has existed for up to 100 years.

Dam opponents say the power they produce is insignificant and can be replaced. But the dams power the equivalent of about 70,000 houses, which doesn’t sound insignificant at all, and replacement power in the short run likely will come from burning natural gas, already going up in price because of growing demand.

Don’t blame Pacific for this deal. The company resisted the anti-dam forces for as long as it could. It was over a barrel because the dams were up for relicensing.

Under the agreement, the secretary of the interior will make the final decision — whether to tear down the dams — by March 31, 2012. Politics being what it is, it takes no oracle to predict what the decision will be. It is also a safe bet that it’s going to cost somebody, and if you’re a taxpayer or a Pacific customer, that somebody is you. (hh)

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              Page Updated: Thursday May 07, 2009 09:14 AM  Pacific

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