COVID-19 Response and Federal Agencies Abandon Idea to Remove Dams

CEO Dave MarkhamAs we continue to navigate the evolving coronavirus pandemic, Central Electric Cooperative has implemented measures to protect its employees and members while continuing to deliver safe and reliable electricity. This mission proves even more critical as many Central Oregonians must stay home, telecommute and conduct school for their children. To learn more about our efforts to maintain a healthy workforce, protect the well-being of our members and assist those who are financially struggling, I direct your attention to pages 28 and 29.

Despite the disruptions the coronavirus has imposed on us all, some things must carry on. In last month’s Ruralite article “Federal Agencies Recognize Value of Lower Snake River Dams,” we shared how the co-lead federal agencies released their long-awaited draft environmental impact statement for the Columbia River System Operations (DEIS). The Bonneville Power Administration, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Bureau of Reclamation examined a range of alternatives for long-term system operations, before settling on a preferred alternative (PA). Public comments on the DEIS were due last month.

The DEIS abandoned the idea to remove the four lower Snake River dams. Such a drastic step would have adversely impacted our members, the reliability of the Northwest energy grid and the global environment. The report also rejected another extreme measure calling for significant increases in water spills at the dams that would dramatically decrease power production, requiring a carbon-emitting resource for replacement power.

How the federal agencies manage the Columbia River System Operations is critical to how CEC can continue to provide members with clean, reliable and affordable electricity. For example, the co-lead agencies reported removing the Snake River dams would have “long-term, major, adverse effects on power costs and rates,” and the “rate pressure could be up to 50% on wholesale power rates.” Increasing spills at dams throughout the Columbia River system would also have a chilling effect, driving costs up 41%.

The DEIS recommended adopting the preferred alternative, which would carry out the 2019-2021 spill operation agreement reached in December 2018. Also known as the flexible spill agreement, it tries to thread the needle between achieving improved salmon survival while managing hydropower generation costs.

CEC submitted comments expressing cautious support for the PA, but insisted the principles in the flexible spill agreement remain intact. Specifically, the PA continues to provide additional fish benefits by increasing spills, manage power system costs while preserving hydro system flexibility and retain operational feasibility. CEC also stressed the need for the co-lead agencies to rigorously analyze the PA’s impacts on endangered species through the development of a robust monitoring approach, transparency and opportunities for public feedback.

Through constructive collaboration, we can work toward ensuring the Columbia River hydroelectric system continues to achieve the greatest benefits for the collective good throughout the Northwest.