The Chelan PUD commissioners this week voted unanimously in favor of a resolution opposing the removal of eight dams on the lower Snake River. Chelan joins other PUDs in the state such as Franklin, Benton and Grant that have already passed similar resolutions.
The fate of the eight hydroelectric dams on the Snake River remains uncertain, though an analysis by NOAA Fisheries as part of a federal environmental impact statement (EIS) process won’t recommend it. Also, a state stakeholder process planned for later this year plans to discuss the benefits and consequences for removing the dams though they are constrained from making any recommendations.
Chelan PUD gets hydropower from the Rocky Reach Dam, the Rock Island Dam and the Lake Chelan Dam. Although breaching the Snake River dams would not directly affect the Chelan PUD, Commissioner Randy Smith who sponsored the resolution told colleagues at the Sept. 16 meeting that he hopes to educate ratepayers in the district and make “a statement of how we view it and value hydropower here in the Pacific Northwest. Removal of those dams could have an impact on us in ways we have yet to even understand.”
The resolution cites the critical role hydropower will play in the state as it moves toward 100-percent clean energy by 2045 based on a law approved this session. One of the concerns raised by utility providers while the legislation was moving through committee was the impact to the state’s system stability. A 2018 report by the Department of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy noted that “hydropower’s ability to quickly adjust output up or down to follow changes in net load makes it play a key role as complement to the much larger, and also highly flexible, natural gas…in integrating variable renewables.”
Another benefit of the system is that it allows the use of barges to move agricultural products such as wheat to market. According to a presentation at a recent Tri-State Transportation Commission meeting, one barge carries the equivalent of 16 railcars and 70 semi trucks. That presentation also included an analysis of what closing the barging system would do to road infrastructure near the Tri-Cities consisting of Richland, Pasco and Kennewick. The analysis concluded it would lead to a massive shift in freight volumes on nearby State Route 12, which connects with Interstate 182 through Pasco.
The central argument for removing the dams is that it is a necessary move to improve salmon populations and consequently the Southern Resident Orca whales who consume them. However, one Chelan PUD commissioner in support of the resolution fears that request is a slippery slope..
“I think at some point as an organization we need to be aware of when people call for the removal of the Snake river dams…and the Orcas were still hungry, what’s the next set of dams? And who speaks for us? We need to speak now and speak clearly that the removal of the Snake River dams is not well thought out.”