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BPA Wants to Scrap Salmon Recovery

by Rocky Barker
The Idaho Statesman, February 9, 2001

Northwest Power Planning Council agrees

PORTLAND -- A top Bonneville Power Administration official is urging regional planners to scrap salmon recovery efforts so the struggling power marketing agency can meet the region's electric needs without going bankrupt.

And members of the Northwest Power Planning Council agreed, saying they did not think Bonneville Power had any other choice.

"The situation is grim," said Frank L. Cassidy, president of the four-state council, which is charged with balancing the region's power needs against wildlife protection. "At least Bonneville is being honest."

Mike Field, Idaho's representative on the power council, agreed with Cassidy's assessment. But he said neither he nor Cassidy are prepared to sacrifice the salmon.

"What we suggested to Bonneville is there should be more than the federal family involved when we sit down and set the priorities," Field said.

If Bonneville Power does not violate salmon protection guidelines, it certainly will not meet electricity demand at least once during February and March, council power analyst Pete Swartz said.

The briefing occurred as Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber announced in Seattle that he has asked President Bush to let Bonneville Power skip this year's payment to the U.S. Treasury -- a reprieve that might help keep salmon protections in place.

A near drought in the Northwest and record-high power prices have made it enormously expensive for the regional power marketer to buy electricity to meet its contract obligations.

That, by some calculations, threatens the agency's solvency, Vice President Greg Delwiche told the power council.

"The strategy was to depend on the marketplace to meet low load (demands) in low-water years," Delwiche said. But doing that this year, he said, could drive Bonneville Power into fiscal crisis.

Power production at federal dams is limited by a federal salmon protection plan, which calls for water to be held in storage reservoirs in eastern Washington and Idaho for release during spring and summer fish migrations.

The plan also calls for some water to be sent through spillways instead of through turbines to provide a safer way for young salmon to get past dams.

But those measures reduce power generating capacity by 10 percent.

Environmentalists note that the BPA and other federal agencies said they didn't need to breach four dams on the Snake River to save salmon because of the very measures they now want to dump. Those four dams have been generating about 600 megawatts of power during this crisis, about half of the electricity needed to power Seattle.

Sara Denniston, river conservationist with Idaho Rivers United, said aggressive energy conservation is a better alternative for meeting the short term emergency.

"It would be real easy to shift the timing of use to encourage companies and consumers to use power in off-peak times," she said.

Bonneville Power wants relief from having to refill storage reservoirs to federally mandated levels and a reduction in the amount of water spilled in spring and summer -- even if it means hurting salmon.

A power emergency was declared three weeks ago.

For five days in mid-January, extra reservoir water was released to generate more electricity.

Delwiche said Bonneville Power has already taken steps to cut electricity demand and spent $200 million to buy back 1,300 megawatts of power from aluminum companies.

But one company, Kaiser Aluminum in Spokane, has refused to cooperate with Bonneville, choosing to close and sell the power it has under a BPA contract on the open market. Environmentalists and Northwest tribes had warned BPA its 1995 contracts with the aluminum companies were flawed.

"Is a healthy Bonneville in the region's best interest? Absolutely. But should BPA abandon salmon without concurrently and aggressively pursuing options? Absolutely not," said Olney Patt Jr., chairman of the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission.

Scientists with the National Marine Fisheries Service -- which designed the fish recovery plan -- told the power council earlier Wednesday that while increased river flows seemed linked to increased fish survival in the summer, that link is not clear in the spring.

Tom Karier, a Washington state member of the council, said biologists need to determine which rules for operating the hydro-system can be violated with least harm to salmon.

"We have to rely on the science," he said.

Rocky Barker
From staff and wire reports
BPA Wants to Scrap Salmon Recovery
The Idaho Statesman, February 9, 2001

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