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Commentaries and editorials

Governor's Anti-Dam Campaign
Ignores Risks to Power Grid

by Scott Simms
Oregonian, September 26, 2021

Oregon's efforts to curb the output of the region's biggest
renewable electricity source also couldn't come at a worse time.

Graphic: Implemented in 2019, the Flex Spill Experiment has coincided with a drastic increase of juvenile salmon mortality. Many Oregonians are likely unaware that Oregon Gov. Kate Brown is working to hobble the region's clean-energy hydroelectric projects -- putting the stability of our power grid at risk -- all the while saying she wants more electric vehicles, lower carbon emissions and a stable state economy.

These are countervailing policy objectives.

Gov. Brown last year publicly shared her disdain for the four Lower Snake River dams, advocating for their removal despite the big role they play in keeping the region's power flowing while also helping integrate wind and solar projects into the grid. Then, on July 16, she doubled down, directing the state to seek a preliminary injunction against the federal government requiring the dams to spill unprecedented and untested volumes of precious water from the region's hydro projects starting as early as the spring of 2022. Such a move would vastly reduce power produced by the region's single largest source of consistently reliable, clean, renewable electricity.

Further, Oregon's proposed move would completely violate a "flex spill agreement" forged recently between the federal government and the states of Oregon, Washington, Montana and Idaho as a collaborative approach to resolving the long-standing tension between harnessing the river to power hydroelectric facilities and ensuring sufficient water for salmon populations. The agreement was designed to provide benefits to both fish and power production, yet it has barely been put in practice before Gov. Brown seemingly decided on her own that it should be blown up.

What's so troubling to the region's nonprofit, consumer-owned utilities that depend on these dams is that the governor won't engage with us to learn about the very real concerns we have over this untested level of spill. How will this affect grid stability and reliability? Will this measurably improve the safety and health of fish? Will it result in impacts to service or increases in electric rates for Oregonians -- many of whom are barely getting by as it is? Consumer-owned utilities in the Northwest serve a higher proportion of people under the poverty line than those served by the region's utilities owned by investors, and at the very least, the governor should hear us on their behalf. Unfortunately, so far she has declined to respond to our requests.

Oregon's efforts to curb the output of the region's biggest renewable electricity source also couldn't come at a worse time. Regional energy supplies are tightening -- what our industry calls a lack of "resource adequacy" -- all the while new emergent weather patterns are doling out severe cold spells, heat waves, wildfires and other major disturbances that are challenging utility operations. In fact, on the day that Gov. Brown was at a Willamette Valley winery for a retreat during the June heatwave, the region's utilities were busy scrambling to ensure the power stayed on. There were a few sporadic outages in the region during those record-breaking days, but the grid was overall able to meet the heightened energy needs of commercial and residential air-conditioners from the heat wave. But what happens in a future heat wave or cold snap if our region's federal hydro system is spilling so much water it can't reliably generate power for the grid? And if hundreds of residents across the Northwest lost their lives in the recent June heat wave despite adequate electricity supplies, what happens in the future if we don't have enough and must resort to forced blackouts during critical periods?

Please, Gov. Brown, talk to us in the region's public power community. It's our obligation to share how your actions could negate your own state energy policy goals, and quite possibly endanger the safety of the people of the Pacific Northwest. And it's your obligation as the state's chief executive to listen.

Related Pages:
Working Together, Bold Action Can Secure a Thriving Future for the Columbia Basin by Kate Brown, East Oregonian, 8/14/21

Scott Simms is executive director of the Public Power Council, which represents the interests of more than 100 consumer-owned utilities in Oregon, Washington, Montana and Idaho. He lives in Hood River.
Governor's Anti-Dam Campaign Ignores Risks to Power Grid
Oregonian, September 26, 2021

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