Energy Needs can be Balanced
Sara Patton, Director NW Energy Coalition
In his Sept. 12 Focus piece "Region at risk," Sam Sperry correctly asserts that we are at risk of losing our legacy of reliable low-cost hydropower and our chance to restore Columbia and Snake river salmon. Northwest leaders must work together to counter the powerful forces from outside the region that covet our low rates. Strong leadership is also the key to forging solutions that balance our energy needs with the needs of endangered fish.
Fending off attempts to wrest control of federal hydropower away from the Northwest, however, will involve more than just flexing the region's waning political muscle. To win much needed allies in other parts of the country, where power rates are higher, the region must demonstrate it values more than just cheap electricity.
The last time the Northwest was at a crossroads over how to manage its energy resources, Congress passed The Northwest Power Planning and Conservation Act. Enacted in 1980, with strong support from politicians outside the region, the act gave us a clear mandate to restore Columbia and Snake river salmon and to invest first in cost-effective energy conservation and renewable resources such as wind, solar and geothermal power. Our utilities invested in a world-renowned energy efficiency resource which delivered enough savings to power a city the size of Seattle 1 1/2 times over. But those investments have been slashed since the mid-90s and we have clearly failed to bring back salmon.
As we debate how to keep the benefits of Columbia and Snake river resources flowing to the Northwest in the future, we can't ignore the here-and-now. Hovering at the brink of extinction, Snake River salmon need a plan now to help them survive a lethal gantlet of hydropower dams. And the best available science tells us to begin partial removal of the four Lower Snake River dams without delay. If we allow salmon to go extinct to save pennies-a-day on what are already the nation's lowest electricity bills, we will play right into the hands of those who want to take away our access to low-cost federal power.
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