A Critical Time for NW Hydro

Photo portrait of Dave MarkhamOur article on page 4 of this month’s edition of Ruralite highlights the value of the Northwest’s hydroelectric dams. These engineering marvels turn powerful flowing water into renewable, emission­-free, low-­cost electricity. They propelled our economy from the pioneer days to modern times. Yet this supplier of 90 percent of the region’s renewable energy faces ongoing threats to its future.

Public support for hydro started eroding in the early 1990s when several runs of salmon and steelhead were designated threatened or endangered species. An unbalanced focus on them as the cause of the fish runs’ decline demonized the dams. No doubt, they play a significant role. However, major changes to operations and dam design have greatly improved fish survival rates, made possible by the nearly $16 bil­lion spent by the Bonneville Power Administration since 1978 on fish and wildlife programs. Annual expenditures rose sharply following the Endangered Species Act designations. In 2016 alone, BPA spent $621 million. These fish and wildlife programs are funded through the rates BPA charges its customer utilities such as CEC. Today, such costs account for more than one­-third of CEC’s annual power costs.

This makes hydro less economically competitive with other energy sources, aggra­vated by a continued excessive focus on the dams’ effects while downplaying the impacts of ocean conditions, harvest rates, habitat degradation and hatchery opera­tions. Additionally, a court-­ordered spill test next year will cost BPA an extra $40 mil­lion when electricity production is reduced by cutting flows through dams’ power­ houses and sending them over spillways to help fish migrate. CEC’s share of this cost is an estimated $500,000. All of this when spill programs are already in place, devel­oped through regional consensus and sound biological science.

Along with a court ­ordered suspension of physical improvements to the dams, these actions amount to death­-by-­a-­thousand­-cuts inflicted by dam­-removal advocates—including the state of Oregon. This make the dams less valuable and, thus, eas­ier to remove. Fortunately, some elected officials are fighting to protect hydro.

Oregon legislators have appealed to Gov. Kate Brown to consider the spill test’s economic impacts on rural Oregonians. Separate federal legislative proposals would make federal dam removal dependent on congressional approval and restore hydro’s classification as renewable energy. Lawmakers oppose a costly Trump administration proposal to sell BPA’s transmission assets.

We need your help protecting these invaluable assets. Join the ORECA­-Action net work at www.oreca­-action.org, or if you join by going to www.cec.coop/energy­-kit­-signup-­form we will send you a free energy­-efficiency kit with two high­-efficiency showerheads and six LED bulbs. I hope you will join and help support elected offi­cials’ efforts to ensure hydroelectricity remains a bright part of our future.

Dave Markham
President & Chief Executive Officer