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RiverPartners' Hibbitts Poll Looks at
Public Attitudes About PNW Hydro System

by Staff
Columbia Basin Bulletin, April 10, 2009

Electric power generation (28 percent) and irrigation to grow crops (22 percent) drew the most votes in a recently conducted poll in which Idaho, Oregon and Washington citizens were asked, among other things, what are the most important uses of the Columbia and Snake rivers.

The rivers' use as habitat for salmon and wildlife came in third at 18 percent, according to the poll commissioned by Northwest River Partners. Barging goods and agricultural products was fourth at 7 percent, flood control fifth at 5 percent; fishing sixth at 4 percent and recreation seventh at 3 percent. Thirteen percent of those polled didn't offer an opinion.

RiverPartners represents farmers, electric utilities and large and small businesses that "support the region's working rivers and fish recovery," according to a press release announcing the poll results. The goal was to measure regional attitudes about the Pacific Northwest hydroelectric system, energy and fish, in a poll of 700 registered voters in Washington, Oregon and Idaho. Tim Hibbitts of Davis, Hibbitts & Midghall, Inc., conducted the survey in February 2009.

More than two-thirds -- 71 percent -- of those polled said they viewed the breaching of four lower Snake River hydro projects as an "extreme solution" that "could do more harm than good" if implemented as a tool to improve the health of protected salmon stocks. Twenty percent said "we should make the decision to remove dams on the lower Snake River to improve salmon runs."

The poll said that "about 1,100 megawatts of electricity (an amount that is equal to two large coal plants) that could be produced by Northwest dams to meet energy needs is instead used to assist salmon recovery." Spill at the dams for fish passage represents lost generating opportunity.

It asked the registered voters, "Would you be willing to have the amount of electricity generated by hydropower in the Pacific Northwest further reduced to help improve salmon runs, if the tradeoff meant using more fossil fuels to generate electricity?" More than two-thirds, 67 percent, said no, while 24 percent said yes.

"Dam removal would be economically devastating to the Northwest's energy picture and use of the rivers as an economic highway" said Terry Flores, executive director of Northwest RiverPartners. "It also runs completely counter to the goal of reducing carbon emissions and would pose a serious setback to meeting the reduction targets set by the states", she added.

"The most dramatic impact would be eliminating 1,100 megawatts of clean hydroelectric power from the region - enough to power a city the size of Seattle - combined with sharp increases in electric rates that will further hurt the Northwest's economy already reeling from job losses," Flores said.

The polling showed that 69 percent of those surveyed said they knew that fossil fuel generation, which contributes to climate change, would replace clean hydro power if dams were removed. And 49 percent said that hydro is more reliable than wind (23 percent) as a renewable source of electricity is generated.

A total of 79 percent of the voters said the states and the U.S. Congress should declare hydro as a renewable resource.

Flores said that the poll results are consistent with polling since 2005 and reflect the high awareness in the region of the importance of hydroelectric power with 93 percent describing electricity production as an essential or important use of the river.

The pollster also sought out opinions on commercial fishing. It found that 72 percent somewhat favor or strongly favor reducing commercial fishing for five years or until salmon are no longer endangered.

Related Sites:
NW River Partners Press Release

During a phone conversation with NW River Partners' Terry Flores, bluefish was directed to for substantiating the Press Release's claim that rates will rise without the four Lower Snake River dams.
Since this Corps' study, the cost of replacing the power from the Snake River dams has continued to escalate. In the spring of 2007, BPA's in-depth analysis of replacement power costs concluded Snake River dam breaching would cost Northwest electricity ratepayers at least $400 million to $550 million annually to replace Snake River dam capabilities.
Neither bluefish nor NW River Partners is aware of any analysis of the effect on prices that might occur from Lower Snake Dam removal. A few years ago, submitted a proposal to begin such a study but the NW Power Conservation Council turned down the request. Flores complimented bluefish for making this "brave" request.

RiverPartners' Hibbitts Poll Looks at Public Attitudes About PNW Hydro System
Columbia Basin Bulletin, April 10, 2009

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