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Economic and dam related articles

The Power of the Snake River Dams

by Staff
BPA Journal, March 2009

In the 1960s and early 1970s, the federal government built four large dams on the Snake River in the Federal Columbia River Power System. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers owns and operates these dams, and BPA markets the power they generate. The power benefits of the lower Snake River dams is described in a new fact sheet on BPA's Web site at pubs/fact_sheets/09fs/.

The FCRPS is the largest source of electricity in the Pacific Northwest and the largest source of renewable electricity in the nation. Power production from the lower Snake River dams saves 4.4 million metric tons of carbon dioxide from reaching the atmosphere each year, according to a 2007 Northwest Power and Conservation Council study. Also according to the Council, "Given the difficulty of reducing CO2 emissions, discarding existing CO2-free power sources has to be considered counterproductive."

Each of the four lower Snake River dams provides significantly more power capacity than a typical coal plant. The nameplate capacity of the four lower Snake dams totals 3,033 megawatts. In comparison, Boardman coal plant has a nameplate capacity of 530 MW. Much of the year, BPA relies on these four dams to help meet peak loads. This ability to produce power when the system needs it most is crucial to maintaining a reliable power supply.

Hydropower is flexible, which helps support the boom of wind power in the BPA transmission grid. Because wind power is variable, it must be complemented with other generation that can be increased when wind unexpectedly dies down or decreased when the wind blows harder. To maintain system reliability with more than 2,100 MW of wind power interconnected to its grid, BPA now adjusts hydro generation up or down by as much as hundreds of megawatts within individual hours to counterbalance unexpected increases or decreases in wind generation. BPA generally makes these within-hour adjustments at mainstem Columbia River dams while using the lower Snake River dams to help meet loads.

Also in March issue of BPA Journal: New fish recovery document available

BPA and other federal agencies involved in recovering endangered and threatened Columbia Basin salmon have released a new publication describing locally developed recovery plans and restoration actions for Endangered Species Act-listed fish in the Middle Columbia and Upper Columbia Basins. The Citizen Update, titled "Regional Partnerships, Historic Agreements, 'On the Ground' Actions," also includes information on programs for lamprey and on the Columbia Basin Fish Accords signed last year by states, tribes and the federal agencies. See the Citizen Update online at reports_pubs/citizen_updates/ or request a copy from the BPA Public Information Center at (800) 622-4520 or

The Power of the Snake River Dams
BPA Journal, March 2009

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