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Going Backwards-Dam Removal In NorCal

http://www.sacbee.com/opinion/story/2227513.html Short version in Sac Bee opinion


by Doug LaMalfa - North California (bio) (email)(print)

Affecting my old Assembly district, Siskiyou and Modoc Counties, comes todays news that the PacifiCorp group, who owns a series of dams on the Klamath River which runs basically parallel to and near the Oregon-California border, has agreed to surrender its ability to produce clean renewable Hydro power, which does not bode well for new projects of any kind in California.

This settlement agreement has been a long time in process, about nine years, with farmers, fishermen, local tribes and a plethora of environmental groups all wrestling along with many government agencies of 2 states and the federal level and the actual owners of the dams.  4 dams now are slated to be destroyed and removed if the provisons of the agreement come to fruition. 

Indeed there are 29 signers to this settlement agreement draft.  The net loss to Californians and Oregonians will be low cost, renewable, green hydroelectric power that serves about 75000 customers, power that will have to be replaced.  With the ever tightening noose of regulations of how and where electricity is sourced for Californians, the costs for ratepayers for this replacement power can only be dramatically higher.  

The eagerness to ratchet up the 'renewable portfolio' level from an already mandated 20% by 2015 as I recall, to a neat new number getting kicked around, such as 33% by 2020, means we will be in a crunch for power supply even more so, at much higher rates.   Solar, wind, the usual renewables aren't the mainstays of the power grid for several reasons: technology still hasn't produced efficient systems, high cost per KW, and lack of reliability of constant supply to the grid.
Reliance on these types of systems requires much redundancy of wind and solar facilities and locations to allow for when there is little wind in one area or sunshine in another.

We Californians are now prohibited from procuring power from out of state coal fired plants, even the newest clean coal tech that powers about 50% of the rest of the country.  We are prohibited from building more nuclear power by self-imposed legislation that my ol' Assembly seatmate, Chuck DeVore has valiantly tried to spotlight and overturn, indeed putting CO2-free nuclear power back on the radar.  We also have an absurd regulation that Hydro power doesn't count as renewable if the plant is larger than 30 MegaWatts.  If rain falls behind a smaller plant it does count.  This kind of provision disallows existing Hydro from counting towards meeting the renewable energy mandate simply if it's "too large" according to legislative whim.
PacifiCorp's original problem was the need to relicense expiring operating permits for running these plants, that any power provider in this state can tell you, opens up the utility to a wish list of demands from all walks of 'stakeholders' wanting a new or larger piece of the pie. PacifiCorp made the decision, with much coercion, that the removal of dams would be cheaper for them and their ratepayers than to try and engineer a fish passage project around the dams that would perhaps never satisfy enviro group demands.  

During my time on the Assembly Utilities and Commerce Committee, it was soon obvious to me that these permits are a tool just short of extortion for enviro groups and their partners that join the ranks of state and federal regulatory agencies to demand just about anything before agreeing to allow permits to be reissued.  If demands are not met, certain lawsuits would ensue, turning up some 'problem' to sue over, environmentally or otherwise.

Adding to the cost column, ratepayers, who will be saddled with higher cost for actual power in both states will be footing the bill via higher rates just to absorb the lowball figure of removing the 4 dams at $200 million.  The backup plan just in case of cost overruns [count on 'em] will be Californians getting saddled with more bond debt, a plan to harness taxpayers with $250 million more to complete the dam removal and restoration, set to commence in year 2020 dollars.  This $250 million element is worming its way into water bond proposal discussions now underway to ostensibly add to our water supply in California, in part by, get this...building a dam or 2!  Bonding to tear 'em out while bonding to put 'em up, nice!  

And still, the enviro groups are not satisfied with the draft agreement, as farmers in the Basin are still to receive allocations for their farmland.  Tearing out 4 dams to promote fish habitat isn't enough, gotta run the famers out of the Basin to preserve 'critical habitat' with their water too.  
"Removing the dams doesn't address the broader problems of the Basin"  says one enviro rep.  One of the contentions is that water in the river system is too warm because of dam operations and ag diversions.  Another quote about the original source Upper Klamath Lake [already warm water] being a "big, warm, green pile of goo" that could make things worse for fish once the dams are gone indicates what many around the Basin already know...this dam removal and water-shift away from ag will do little to help fish, instead it's another shift of power away from private property owners, at great cost to many Californians and Oregonians. 

While a handful from DC to the Pacific are giddy about this plan, it also establishes a precedent that is very dangerous to most any infrastructure in existence, to private property rights, and the availabilty of affordable power to many.  Will the last one out of California turn out the lights, er, never mind, it's already happening.

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