There are 120,000 public power consumers in Idaho, most
of them in rural communities, who for decades have
relied on the Bonneville Power Administration for
reasonably priced energy. They have a continuing
interest in BPA providing energy and protecting salmon.
Breaching the four lower Snake dams — as advocated by
the Statesman — is not the salmon recovery step needed
at this time and brings with it significant adverse
economic consequences for rural Idaho.
As Sen. Mike Crapo stated in a July 29 Statesman
interview, "Currently the region is working according to
an ‘aggressive non-breach' policy that is focused on
doing everything possible to recover our fish short of
breaching the four lower Snake dams." Those ‘non-breach'
programs and multi-million-dollar investments need to
run their course before dam breaching can be
The current regional "sovereigns'" (state and federal
agencies and tribes) collaborative effort to develop a
new biological opinion (BiOp) to protect and recover
stocks of Northwest salmon and steelhead is under way.
This process was ordered by Judge Redden in Oregon
Federal District Court as a way for regional interests
to work together on creative solutions, without
congressional intervention. That process is ongoing.
On average, the four Lower Snake dams produce
slightly more than 1,200 megawatts of electricity,
enough to power the city of Seattle. The dams can
produce a peak amount of electricity of more than 3,000
megawatts. Roughly 5 percent of the Northwest's
electricity comes from these four dams. BPA estimates
that its customers would pay $400 million to $550
million a year to replace the power generated by these
four lower Snake River dams if those dams were removed.
These dams generate electricity at a very low historical
cost, and power sold from them to rural Idaho customers
are "at cost." Replacing renewable hydroelectricity
built with 1960s and '70s dollars with current dollars
makes little sense, absent a compelling case. That case
has not yet been made.
In advocating dam breaching while promoting wind
power development, the Statesman is also pursuing an
inconsistent position. BPA estimates it can "firm"
approximately 6,000 megawatts of wind generated
electricity with its "flexible" hydro system. A 3,000
megawatt reduction of the hydro system peaking capacity
would reduce by hundreds of megawatts, if not thousands,
potential wind power development. As the Pacific
Northwest moves toward wind power as a key renewable
resource, we need the generation peaking capacity of the
dams to provide backup when the wind doesn't blow.
Otherwise, we face the prospect over time of building
other thermal (coal or natural gas) plants to cover peak
loads, or simply not having enough energy to meet
Absent a more compelling argument, we should remain
on the path where we retain our existing clean,
renewable hydro-electric resources, while at the same
time seek to better protect and improve our salmon runs.
We are not yet at the fork in the road where we have to
choose between the two.
Ron Williams is an attorney in Boise and represents
the Idaho Consumer-Owned Utilities Association, a trade
association of 22 nonprofit electric cooperatives and
municipalities providing retail electric service