A Balanced Approach Is Needed, Not More Litigation
I’m always thinking about the co-op’s long-term future and our ability to continue delivering our members clean, reliable, and affordable energy.
Hood River Co-op relies on the federal Columbia River Power System for nearly all of its wholesale electricity. This renewable, carbon-free resource faces many external pressures.
The 20-year legal wrangling over federal agencies’ management of the hydropower system is one such pressure. At the heart of many disagreements is “spill,” which diverts water through spillways instead of past hydropower turbines. Some groups believe spill aids fish migration, but it significantly reduces electricity generation.
In 2018, a flexible spill agreement was negotiated by the federal agencies, tribes, and states seeking to balance the needs of salmon and electric ratepayers. That agreement was also adopted in a 2020 environmental impact statement, or EIS.
This summer, Oregon and special interest groups asked a federal judge to dismantle the 2018 flexible spill agreement, and filed a lawsuit challenging the EIS.
The lawsuit asks for maximum around-the-clock spill on the lower Columbia and Snake River dams. Oregon’s motion, if successful, could waste enough renewable electricity to power up to 950,000 homes by spilling water over the top of dams rather than letting it generate energy.
The motion would also make it much harder to achieve the goals set forth in Oregon’s recently passed Clean Energy Bill, because intermittent renewable sources, such as wind and solar, depend on hydropower generation to fill in the gaps when wind/sunshine aren’t present.
This questionable spill experiment has no guarantee of aiding fish because it’s not clear that the dams are the problem. Climate change, ocean conditions, and harvest all play roles as well. We know this because undammed rivers are also seeing severe declines in salmon survival.
There is no question around-the-clock spill would adversely affect electric rates and grid reliability, as soon as it happens. A recent analysis by the Bonneville Power Administration found an operation similar to what Oregon proposed could raise BPA’s electricity rates by 25% to 40%.
As for grid reliability, the lower Snake River dams played a critical role in keeping the lights on for millions during recent extreme weather events. The dams were a crucial energy source during last winter’s Willamette Valley ice storms and the recent scorching heat that enveloped Oregon.
Taking this generation offline would increase the risk of Northwest blackouts from the current 6.6% to a forecast of 30%, which is unacceptable. Oregonians should be highly concerned, given recent blackouts in Texas and California, and given our recent heat dome event, in which reports indicate almost 800 people died. The consequences would have been much more dire without a reliable power supply.
We must do better. I recently signed a multi-signatory letter to Governor Kate Brown. The letter urges a comprehensive, balanced approach to solving this issue. We need collaboration, not litigation, to find the right solution.