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Dams are critical for reliable energy grid in Pacific Northwest

Capital Press commentary    Newhouse represents Washington’s 4th Congressional District and serves as Chairman of the Congressional Western Caucus.

“Isolated interruptions in electric service can have catastrophic health and economic consequences. A robust and reliable electric power system is therefore not only a basic human necessity but is also critical to national security and defense.”

It is not often that I agree with President Biden, but his words declaring an electricity emergency ring true to all of us in the Pacific Northwest and across the United States. Americans are facing record-high energy costs due to a Green New Deal agenda, and our nation’s electric grid is at risk. Fortunately for our region, we have an example of reliable, clean, and renewable energy right here: The Federal Columbia River Power System.

Last week, I was proud to lead a delegation of Congressional Western Caucus Members from across the United States on a tour of the Columbia and Snake Rivers, as well as the Ice Harbor Dam. We learned about the benefits the dam system provides for Central Washington, our region, and the nation. In addition to the incredibly important role the dams play for our state’s economy and agriculture industry, we learned about the generating capacity the dams along these powerful rivers have to provide clean, renewable, and affordable energy for our homes and businesses.

In Central Washington, we enjoy some of the lowest electricity costs in the country — even as the Biden administration’s actions result in grid insecurities and rising gas prices. The dams along the Columbia and Snake rivers have contributed greatly to the stability of our region’s electric grid, which ensures that Washingtonians enjoy a stable and abundant supply of affordable power. We even send excess power to states like California, whose leadership has already dismantled baseload energy resources in exchange for unreliable intermittent sources like wind and solar, causing communities to experience energy shortages and “brown outs.”

Unfortunately, dam-breaching advocates — including Governor Inslee and Senator Murray — want to tear them out, arguing that in order to protect native salmon species, we must eliminate the Pacific Northwest’s most reliable source of renewable power.

Their conclusion is false. As U.S. Army Corps scientists, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory researchers, and other local experts demonstrated during our tour last week, dams and fish can — and do — co-exist. Our dams have a 96-98% fish passage rate, and the technologies being deployed at Ice Harbor are serving as a model for hydropower dams all over the world. In fact, the latest comprehensive review of the dam system by federal scientists concluded that breaching the dams would do more harm than good for our region, and there is no scientific evidence that removal of the dams would improve salmon recovery.

This week, I introduced the Federal Columbia Power System Certainty Act to ensure that operations of the dam system along the Columbia and Snake Rivers are conducted in accordance with the best available science as they continue to provide the carbon-free, baseload energy our state and region depend on.

The impacts of this administration’s failed energy policies have now, quite literally, resulted in the declaration of a national emergency, and if we are going to address our nation’s electricity shortfalls, we must support and promote hydropower. That support must include the Columbia and Snake River dam system, which has the capacity to generate enough electricity to power every major city in the Pacific Northwest.

Hydroelectric dams play a critical role in the diverse energy portfolio we need to build a stable and resilient energy grid. And, as we saw firsthand on our field tour, Central Washington is embracing an all-of-the-above energy portfolio that benefits rural communities, agriculture producers, local economies, and — importantly — our environment.

I will continue to work in Congress, through my role as Chairman of the Western Caucus and as a Member of the Energy and Water Appropriations Subcommittee, and alongside the countless leaders and partners throughout our district to defend our dams and support a robust energy grid that will meet our nation’s electricity needs.



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