Dam Politics

The lower Snake River dams—a critical component of the Federal Columbia River Power System—produce firm, reliable, carbon-free, affordable energy and play an essential role in keeping the lights on for millions of consumers, especially during extreme winter and summer events. Yet, the light produced by this valuable resource is at risk and faces going dark—permanently.

Dam politics are playing a big role in getting the dams removed.

The Bonneville Power Administration, which manages the FCRPS, released its 2020 Columbia River Systems Operation’s final Environmental Impact Study, which stated breaching the dams would:

  • Create an additional 3.3 million metric tons of carbon dioxide, a staggering 10%
    increase in power-related carbon emissions across the Northwest.
  • More than double the region’s risk of power shortages.
  • Substantially increase wholesale electricity rates by approximately 25%.

Fast forward to this summer. Washington Gov. Jay Inslee and Washington Sen. Patty Murray, dissatisfied with some of the federal agencies’ best fisheries specialists’ conclusions, released their commissioned study to get the desirable answer. There is a path forward without the dams, with yet-to-be-determined resources at a potential cost up to $27.2 billion paid for by ratepayers or taxpayers.

However, the governor and senator’s report fails to consider the significant adverse ramifications should this happen: loss of clean, reliable and affordable power. Negative impacts on the climate. Heightened risk of blackouts. Adverse effects on regional economies. Imposition of unnecessary financial costs on vulnerable populations.

The report also ignores how the lower Snake River dams’ fish-passage technology—financed by the region’s ratepayers at almost $2 billion—achieved a juvenile dam passage survival objective of 96% for Chinook salmon and steelhead, per the federal National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s 2017 study. The dams and fish can co-exist.

The White House Council on Environmental Quality, which rarely weighs in on BPA or Department of Energy issues, injected itself into the fray, releasing its review draft study endorsing the removal of the lower Snake River dams.

The CEQ interfered further and successfully delayed BPA from releasing its power replacement study should the dams be breached. BPA’s Energy, Environmental & Economics (E3) study finally came out on the same day CEQ released its review draft, but received scant coverage, unlike CEQ, which dominated the headlines.

The E3 study affirmed the value the dams bring to the Pacific Northwest. Replacing the lost power would come at a cost in the billions of dollars. That equates to anywhere from $100 to $230 per household annually. Senior citizens and those on fixed incomes should not have to choose between medicine and food or paying their electric bills.

Say no to breaching the dams and yes to keeping the lights on. Get involved! Sign up for Voices of Cooperative Power at https://voicesforcooperativepower.com/oregon, a platform to speak up about energy policies affecting your way of life.