Pinching Pennies Won't Save Fishby Editorial Board
Seattle Post-Intelligencer - April 4, 2004
Pinching pennies is the poorest way to protect anything. The plan to cut costs on salmon protection along the Columbia River could eventually hurt fish, the dams and the Northwest's economy.
The Bonneville Power Administration and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said last week they want to reduce summer spills of water, which aid fish moving downstream past hyrdoelectric dams. The spill reduction will allow the BPA to sell more electricity to California, eventually benefiting Northwest electric ratepayers. For far less, the agency argued, it can "achieve similar or better" results for fish with mitigation steps, such as control of salmon predators.
Viewed narrowly, BPA's desire to be as cost-effective as possible while protecting fish makes perfect sense. If BPA can pull off the change in river operations without violating the Endangered Species Act, which very much remains to be proved, the agency might eliminate part or all of an expected 5 percent increase in wholesale costs to electrical utilities. That would help the region's electrical consumers, especially companies that have seen their longtime energy cost advantage erode or disappear.
But a wide context is helpful in thinking about the Columbia River drainage system. The federal government's 20th century dam-building binge has changed the Northwest's economy, environment and society in ways that still aren't fully comprehended.
Some of the environmental damage, though, is well documented. That's why one of the salmon runs helped by summer spills is under Endangered Species Act protection. It's also why the removal of four Snake River dams was almost ordered four years ago.
Instead, after hearing about the huge effects that dam removal would have on Eastern Washington's farms, economy and communities, federal agencies decided that review of the dams' removal could be delayed 10 years. While dam removal would provide surer help, officials decided, extraordinary efforts might save the salmon by other means, such as the spills.
Officials have seen better than expected results for salmon so far. But the spill plan attempts to ease commitments that, in the life of the river, were made almost yesterday.
Salmon are still a long way from health. This plan unwisely invites more risk. A short-term financial boost will prove a foolish bargain if broken promises of recovery require dam removal.
bluefish does the math for your convenience: BPA estimates that eliminating summer spill would provide 1.15 - 1.49 million Megawatt*hours (MWh) of "surplus" electricity to sell (typically to California) at an estimated average price of $32/MWh (yielding $37 - $46 million). Prices of course will vary with time of day and electricity market conditions. BPA estimates that elimination of summer spill could potentially provide a 2% electricity rate reduction.
BPA Gets Little Support for Reduced Spill NW Fishletter, 2/6/4 by Bill Rudolph
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