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Heating Planet Demands We Keep
Lower Snake River Dams

by Kurt Miller
Seattle Times, June 22, 2023

Chinook salmon populations face a high risk of extinction
within 40 years if the ocean continues to warm at its current rate.

With wildfire smoke encircling the globe, we are feeling the effects of climate change directly. And it is only June.

Unfortunately, "heat domes" are no longer novel and will continue to be part of our lexicon.

The North American Electric Reliability Corporation recently made clear the impact of these events on grid reliability: Two-thirds of North America faces reliability challenges in the event of widespread heat waves. Areas in the U.S. West are at elevated risk due to areawide heat events that can drive above-normal demand and strain resources and the transmission network.

The NERC warning doesn't matter much to those who want to tear out the four Lower Snake River Dams, some of the Pacific Northwest's most reliable, carbon-free generators of electricity. They mistakenly conflate all renewables as being equal in the reliability they provide to the grid, but those responsible for the grid's reliability know that is simply not the case. Wind and solar power, even when paired with batteries, cannot get you through a heat wave or cold snap. Hydropower can, has, and will continue to do so.

The Lower Snake River Dams kept the grid powered during the Northwest's deadly heat domes of 2021 and 2022 and cold snap of December 2022.

We in the West should be concerned.

Blackouts are life-or-death situations. Our grid must keep electricity flowing during extreme heat even as wind turbines stop turning and solar panels go dark at night.

The head of the American Clean Power Association testified at a U.S. Senate hearing recently that "Hydro is kind of the unsung hero of our clean energy system right now." This is coming from an organization that focuses primarily on wind and solar development. They added, "the scope and scale of the challenge is profound; we cannot lose any non-carbon power."

Climate change represents an existential threat. That's why states are driving policies to curtail fossil fuel use, resulting in a doubling of demand placed on the electric grid via EVs and electrification of home heating. It's the same reason we passed one of the most aggressive clean energy mandates in the country.

What most people don't know is the climate threat is more pronounced for salmon than it is for people. According to a 2021 NOAA Fisheries peer-reviewed paper, Chinook salmon populations face a high risk of extinction within 40 years if the ocean continues to warm at its current rate.

This prediction makes sense. We've experienced a 65% decline in Chinook survival rates along the entire West Coast (including in undammed rivers in Canada and Alaska) over the last 50 years. That coincides with a period that the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change calls a period of 50 years of unabated ocean warming.

There are 76 listed threatened or endangered salmon and steelhead populations along the Pacific Coast of North America. Only four of them are from the Snake River. Tearing out the Lower Snake River Dams -- and the carbon-free generation they produce -- does not solve the climate problem for any of these salmon. It makes it worse.

Fortunately, our state has Congressional leaders like Sens. Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell, and Reps. Cathy McMorris Rodgers and Dan Newhouse who recognize that all forms of energy present challenges, and share common ground in supporting clean, reliable hydroelectric power. Even the Biden administration's Department of Energy recently released a report citing the central role hydropower will play in meeting our climate objectives. And earlier this month White House energy senior adviser John Podesta said, "We've got to fix the cost and delays that are bogging down the licensing process for hydropower projects. Hydro supplies 37% of zero-carbon power in the United States. It's time to reform the process so we can keep this crucial energy source online."

Ultimately, tearing out the dams threatens grid reliability, increases customer rates, sets our decarbonization efforts back and makes climate change worse. There are going to be tough choices involved in decarbonizing our grid and maintaining the same resilience and reliability in the face of increasing demand. To meet these objectives, maintaining the Pacific Northwest's irreplaceable hydroelectric system should not even be in question.

Kurt Miller is the executive director of Northwest RiverPartners, representing community-owned electric utilities and other supporters of clean, affordable energy and river transportation across the Northwest.
Heating Planet Demands We Keep Lower Snake River Dams
Seattle Times, June 22, 2023

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