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Commentaries and editorials

Power Planning Council Disputes Snake River Report

by Steve Ernst
Puget Sound Business Journal, October 25, 2002

The heat was turned up last week on the simmering battle over the fate of four dams on the lower Snake River. The Northwest Power Planning Council has taken issue with a report released last month by the RAND Corp. over removal of four dams Ice Harbor, Lower Monumental, Little Goose and Lower Granite on the lower Snake River. In addition to helping with navigation, flood control and irrigation, the dams provide about 5 percent of the power consumed in the Northwest.
(bluefish notes: the LSR dams provide no flood control benefit. This can be verified by Walla Walla ACOE office 509-527-7700.)

Environmentalists argue that removing the dams is the best way to save endangered salmon runs on the lower Snake River.

Last month, RAND a Santa Monica, Calif.-based think tank released a study saying the Northwest could replace the energy lost from removing the dams by developing more wind power and conserving electricity.

"RAND has been used, perhaps unwittingly, to advance special-interest policies in the Pacific Northwest," the council said in statement released last week. "This can only harm RAND's reputation as an objective research group."

The council agrees that loss of power from the four dams could be made up through conservation and investment in renewable energy, but that alone does not justify breaching the dams.

"The biggest disappointment I have is that they didn't talk to us," said council chairman Larry Cassidy in a prepared statement. "RAND is a highly credible institution. We could have provided RAND with detailed, specific information about the region's energy supply, past accomplishments and future energy needs."

The council took umbrage with several conclusions in the report:

Conservation, renewables

The Northwest can meet all of its future energy needs through conservation and renewables, according to study commissioned by the Northwest Energy Coalition, a Seattle-based conservation and renewable-advocacy group.

The study was conducted by the Tellus Institute, a Boston-based sustainable energy consulting group.

The report says the Northwest will need a total of 5,300 average megawatts of new power by 2020, or enough to power five cities the size of Seattle annually.

"We can slash that demand by 3,100 average megawatts through cost-effective conservation and generate 9,000 average megawatts with new wind, biomass and geothermal resources at prices comparable to what we could pay for new gas-fired generation," according to the report.

The Tellus report identifies 14,431 average megawatts of potential energy available through conservation and renewable resources. Just implementing the most cost-effective conservation measures and investing in competitively priced renewables yields slightly more than 12,000 average megawatts, most of which costs about 4.1 cents per kilowatt hour or less. The cost of new gas-fired generation ranges from between 3.5 cents per kilowatt hour and 4 cents per kilowatt hour.

"It's premature for us to comment on the overall conclusions of the Tellus report," said Dick Watson, director of the Northwest Power Planning Council.

"However, we hope the Tellus study has uncovered new energy efficiency technologies and practices, new applications of existing technology, and up-to-date information on costs," he said.

Related Sites:
Tellus Institute: www.tellus.org NW Energy Coalition: Full Text of Tellus Institute report


Steve Ernst
Power Planning Council Disputes Snake River Report
Puget Sound Business Journal, October 25, 2002

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