PUD Pitches in $8,000 to Review
by Erik Robinson, Staff Writer
Clark Public Utilities commissioners will pitch in $ 8,000, in an effort to lobby the Bonneville Power Administration to more efficiently manage the Columbia River basin for salmon and hydroelectricity production.
Commissioners on Tuesday agreed to a request by the Public Power Council, a coalition of 114 consumer-owned utilities in the Pacific Northwest, including Clark, to pay consultants to review a federal salmon recovery plan that annually costs Bonneville ratepayers hundreds of millions of dollars.
Rob Walton, the council's assistant manager, told commissioners they have a "window of opportunity" to influence federal dam managers. Walton said the council broadly supports a recent set of draft recommendations by the Northwest Power Planning Council that would curtail the amount of water dedicated to speed young salmon to the Pacific Ocean in the spring. Doing so would enable federal energy marketers to drive dam turbines in the summer, sell surplus electricity to California and help Bonneville avoid more rate increases.
Walton said boosting flow out of upstream reservoirs and spilling water over dams in the summer may only provide marginal benefits to fish.
Money dedicated to fish and wildlife amounts to 10 percent to 15 percent of most electricity bills in the Northwest, he said. That includes revenue sacrificed by spilling water away from dam turbines, generally considered the safest method of passing juvenile salmon downstream. Conservation and tribal groups argue those measures are crucial to recovering imperiled salmon and steelhead.
With salmon populations improving with good ocean conditions, Walton said now is the time to consider changes. In addition, he noted that National Marine Fisheries Service regional administrator Bob Lohn is open to considering such changes.
"Rather than saying, 'the fish aren't important, power rates are,' we're trying to find ways to spend the money smarter," Walton said.
Clark's contribution of $ 8,091 will go toward $ 185,000 the Public Power Council plans to spend to have consultants review federal salmon recovery plans, dam operations, the role of hatcheries, as well as coordinate efforts to withstand changes in energy markets proposed by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.
Clark commissioners Carol Curtis, Nancy Barnes and Byron Hanke voted unanimously to pitch in the money.
Jim Malinowski, a local fish recovery advocate and utility watchdog, told commissioners it's wise for public power to have a voice as Bonneville weighs its options.
"There is no best available science," he said. "There's best agenda science."
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