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Hydropower Rep Hopes for 'Apolitical'
Study on Snake River Dams

by Don Jenkins
Capital Press, April 27, 2023

Energy GPS of Portland, hired by Northwest River Partners, concluded
it would take 14,900 megawatts of wind, solar and battery storage.

In this 2013 aerial file photo, the Ice Harbor Dam on the Snake Ri ver is seen near Pasco, Washington (Bob Brawdy / Associated Press). OLYMPIA -- Washington legislators have authorized a study on replacing the electricity from Lower Snake River dams, calling for a national laboratory to look at a subject already pored over by several consultants.

Lawmakers appropriated $2 million and directed the Department of Commerce to contract with "western national laboratories" or similar independent research organizations.

A study by experts who are "apolitical and above the fray" would be welcome, said Kurt Miller, executive director of Northwest River Partners, a pro-hydropower association of electric utilities.

"We're supportive of any nationally recognized, scientific organization taking the lead here," he said. "If you do a study, it should be done by someone who understands energy."

Environmental groups advocate breaching Ice Harbor, Lower Monumental, Little Goose and Lower Granite dams to help wild salmon runs.

The dams make enough power to electrify Portland and can ramp up output during heat waves and cold spells as energy demand spikes. The dams also aid river navigation and irrigation.

Lawmakers also funded a $5 million study on replacing the transportation benefits and a $500,000 study on replacing the irrigation benefits.

A report last year for the Bonneville Power Administration by Energy and Environmental Economics of San Francisco projected replacing the dams would take 12,000 megawatts of solar and wind installations.

Another study by Energy GPS of Portland, hired by Northwest River Partners, concluded it would take 14,900 megawatts of wind, solar and battery storage.

Washington has about 3,400 megawatts of wind and solar power now, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. It's almost all wind, though more solar panels, mostly on land zoned for agriculture, are planned.

The BPA and Northwest River studies -- foreseeing a huge addition of wind and solar installations -- were dismissed by the consultants who did the dam-breaching study for Gov. Jay Inslee and Sen. Patty Murray.

Ross Strategic of Seattle and Kramer Consulting of Washington, D.C., discarded the studies because the amount of replacement resources the they called for are four to five times more than other reports.

The Ross-Kramer report cited a 2020 Army Corps of Engineers study that projected replacing the dams average output would take 3,500 megawatts of solar, batteries and "demand response," or rationing.

The Army corps report, however, concluded that breaching the dams would increase carbon emissions by 1.8 million tons a year.

Without the four dams, natural gas-fired plants would have to ramp up to prevent blackouts when wind and solar power was low and demand for electricity was high, according to the corps.

The Northwest River study took a hard line -- no fossil fuels to maintain grid reliability. The report cited various state laws, including Washington's law barring electricity from fossil fuels by 2045.

Miller said it wasn't surprising his organization's consultant concluded that replacing the dams will take a much bigger investment in wind and solar projects.

"We can't meet our clean-energy laws without the dams," he said.

Miller said he doesn't know whether another study will cover new ground, unless it goes into more detail.

"Maybe it will help inform thoughtful policymakers, and that's my hope," he said.

"We didn't advocate for them to do another study, but we didn't try to kill it, either. We're not afraid of the data."

Don Jenkins
Hydropower Rep Hopes for 'Apolitical' Study on Snake River Dams
Capital Press, April 27, 2023

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