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Seattle Wants it Both Ways with Dams

by Mike Lee, Herald staff writer
Tri-City Herald, November 29, 2000

The Seattle City Council wants to breach the lower Snake River dams, but the city's utility is trying to double its take of cheap hydropower from federal dams on the Columbia-Snake river system.

"At City Light, we know where our electricity comes from, and most of our electricity comes from the eastern portion of the state," said Bob Royer, spokesman for Seattle City Light. "And we are damn glad to get it."

In a brochure being mailed to Seattle City Light's 310,000 residential customers this month, the utility says demand for power is increasing faster than supply. And, like many others in the Northwest, it's concerned spot market prices will continue to rise, perhaps sharply like they did this summer.

That's where Columbia-Snake hydropower comes in.

Last year, Seattle City Light purchased 17 percent of its power from the Bonneville Power Administration. Now, the utility is crafting a new agreement to nearly double the amount of power it buys from BPA and reduce dependence on the volatile spot market.

"At around 2.4 cents per kilowatt-hour, BPA power is among our least costly alternatives," said the brochure.

Here's the rub: About 85 percent of BPA's power comes from the Columbia-Snake hydrosystem, which includes the lower four Snake River dams that the city council voted unanimously in August should be removed to improve fish habitat. The rest of BPA's power comes from Energy Northwest's nuclear plant in Richland.

The incongruity of a city pushing for dam breaching while increasing dependence on that very system of dams isn't lost on Seattle's utility, which seems to squirm when reminded about the council's resolution.

Mayor Paul Schell, the county executive who oversees City Light, did not sign the resolution and is trying to distance himself from it, a spokesman said. The utility is trying to do the same.

Royer cites the utility's long-standing relationship with power development in the Columbia Basin Project, its reliance on Boundary Dam north of Spokane and its partnership with rural Skagit County and dams on the Skagit River -- not to mention the importance of the Columbia-Snake dams.

"This has been a difficult issue for us at the utility because of our connections to rural communities," Royer said. "We don't want to diminish the council's point of view, but we're the ones who work in these communities, and what those communities feel is just critical to us."

Mike Lee
Seattle Wants it Both Ways with Dams
Tri-City Herald, November 29, 2000

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