Why You Should Give a Darn About These Dams

July 06, 2022
Article

The region’s hydropower generation is its superpower. Hydropower represents 83% of the power used by Salem Electric members and 85% of the Northwest’s renewable energy. As a result, the Pacific Northwest boasts the lowest-carbon electric grid in the USA, the least costly renewable energy in the nation, and the lowest energy burden in the country. The lower Snake River dams are an important part of this equation. These four hydroelectric dams are located in Eastern Washington, but they provide millions of megawatt-hours of affordable, reliable, zero-carbon electricity to the entire Pacific Northwest.

Dam

These dams play a key role in filling in the gaps for wind and solar power, provide much needed irrigation for farmers, and support the region’s trade economy by transporting 10% of America’s wheat to port. They have been upgraded with the most advanced fish passage systems in the world, and they are essential in helping us meet our emissions reduction goals as our region and country work to confront the impacts of climate change.

Despite these facts, Washington Senator Patty Murray and Governor Jay Inslee initiated a process to see if the services provided by the dams can be replaced due to concerns over low salmon returns. 

The findings of the report were eye-opening. Estimates to replace the benefits the dams provide Northwest residents ranged from $10 billion to $27 billion, and the report acknowledges it left some significant things out. Many industry experts believe the importance of these dams greatly exceeds $27 billion.

In 2020, the federal government estimated replacing the dams with a carbon-free combination of solar and utility scale batteries could raise the cost of power sold by the Bonneville Power Administration (BPA) by as much as 50%. For utilities that get 100% of their electricity from BPA, like Salem Electric, the rates our members pay could jump by as much as 25%.

Our already fragile grid is facing unique challenges and threats. Removing the lower Snake River dams would not only create even greater challenges, but their loss would harm our efforts to keep the power on when we most need it.

Additionally, losing the lower Snake River dams makes it virtually certain that grid operators will be forced to continue using coal or natural gas generation for years to avoid blackouts.

Despite these huge negative impacts to the price of power, undermining reliability, and moving us away from meeting our climate objectives, many still want to remove the lower Snake River dams. While the draft report by Senator Murray and Governor Inslee did not call for removal, they will be under tremendous pressure to take that position in the coming weeks and months.

That is why we are encouraging our members to make their voices heard. No matter your opinion we encourage you to provide your comments to Senator Murray, Governor Inslee, and your congressperson directly. 

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