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Power Council Calls Dams Report Inexact

by Mike Lee, Herald staff writer
Tri-City Herald, October 22, 2002

A September report that revived interest in breaching the lower Snake River dams has been refuted by the Northwest Power Planning Council as misinformed and only partially accurate.

The council last week said RAND, a California-based think tank, may have been duped by political lobbying when it said last month that power loss from the four dams could be replaced by conservation and renewable resources.

"RAND has been used, perhaps unwittingly, to advance special-interest policies in the Pacific Northwest," said the power council in a news release.

The council hasn't taken a position on breaching the four lower Snake River dams, but it voiced concern about the effects of RAND's analysis.

"If you believe their assumptions, then you would be left to believe that the energy lost from breaching the dams could be replaced at a low cost," said John Harrison, council spokesman. "That should be proven. We don't think they did a very good job of that."

The RAND report indicated the effect of dam breaching on Northwest states would be "plus-or-minus fewer than 20,000 jobs," or less than one-third of 1 percent of all potential jobs. Permanent economic benefits would be realized through additional recreation and tourism plus investments in energy efficiency equipment, the study said.

The power council faulted RAND for "an alarming lack of recognition" of the Northwest's 22-year history of conservation measures and increasing reliance on renewable resources.

Council leaders also said RAND should have done a better job basing their conclusions on Northwest-specific research rather than on California numbers or federal forecasts.

"The biggest disappointment I have is that they didn't talk to us," said Council Chairman Larry Cassidy. "We could have provided RAND with detailed, specific information about the region's energy supply, past accomplishments and future energy needs."

For instance, information relied on by RAND predicts the Northwest will develop 123 megawatts of wind generation by 2020, when more than 500 megawatts of wind power already have been developed in the Northwest.

RAND also said there were 5,000 megawatts of conservation available at $15 to $30 per megawatt-hour, more than three times higher than the council's highest estimate of cost-effective conservation potential.

"What they said was there was a whole lot more conservation in the region than we have ever been able to identify," said John Harrison, council spokesman. "Our modeling doesn't show that much at that low of a price."

RAND's Mark Bernstein told the council during a meeting last week in Spokane that the report would not be revised.

Nor did the Northwest Energy Coalition back down. It helped shape the RAND report and last week released another study that said the Northwest can meet its growing need for electricity with increased energy efficiency and new renewable power sources.

"We have statistics and numbers from our own report that pretty much back up what (RAND) is saying," said coalition spokesman Kevin Fullerton. "There is a lot of renewable and energy efficiency potential out there."

The power council agrees with RAND that the cost of replacing the four lower Snake River dams with conservation and renewable resources is small in comparison to the $400 billion Northwest economy.

But Cassidy said that doesn't justify dam removal, which he said should be justified on the basis of the potential benefits to salmon and other activities compared with the cost of removing the dams and replacing the electricity supply. The RAND report also did not account for the cost of repaying outstanding debt on the breached dams.

Mike Lee
Power Council Calls Dams Report Inexact
Tri-City Herald, October 22, 2002

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