U.S. Hydropower Output Hike
by Nigel Hunt
LOS ANGELES -- A plan to generate extra power in the Pacific Northwest this summer by relaxing some fish protection measures has been blocked by a federal judge.
U.S. District Judge James Redden, in a ruling issued on Wednesday, halted plans to boost power production by reducing the amount of water spilled over four federal hydropower dams.
Some water is spilled each year, rather than sent through massive turbines to produce power, to give juvenile fish a better chance of survival.
"We are disappointed, of course, because we spent many months working with parties to devise a plan that would have offset any additional (fish) mortality," said Ed Mosey, a spokesman for the Bonneville Power Administration.
Mosey said no decision has yet been made about whether to appeal the ruling.
Portland, Oregon-based BPA markets power from federal hydropower dams in the Pacific Northwest.
The plan called for current spill operations to end at the Bonneville and Dalles dams at the end of July and at Ice Harbor and John Day dams on Aug. 25. Previously, water was spilled at those dams for the whole of August.
Environmental groups filed a lawsuit to block the plan with the backing of Oregon Governor Ted Kulongoski. The governors of three other Northwest states, Washington, Idaho and Montana, had supported the plan to curtail spills.
"Judge Redden looked through the rhetoric and saw the pennies saved on a monthly electric bill were not worth risking the collapse of the salmon-dependent communities and economies in the Northwest," said Sara Patton, executive director of NW Energy Coalition, a grouping that includes environmental groups and promotes fish and wildlife restoration.
BPA had estimated the plan would save ratepayers between $18 million and $28 million this year. It would have generated on average an extra 800 to 900 megawatts for the month of August. One megawatt is roughly enough power for 1,000 homes.
The agency had said it would have implemented a series of measures designed to offset the impact on the region's fish, including providing improved rearing conditions for fall chinook salmon.
BPA spokesman Mosey said the ruling would significantly reduce the agency's sales to utilities in the Southwest this summer, forcing them to bring on line some thermal power plants which could otherwise had been idled.
"There is going to be a little more smog down there (in the Southwest)," he noted.
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