Salmon Second to Power Grid, BPA Saysby Jonathan Brinckman
The Oregonian, March 13, 2001
The acting administrator says the agency has to look out
for its own survival in the next 12 to 18 months
WILSONVILLE -- Salmon protection must be second to power production if the Bonneville Power Administration is to keep its electricity prices from doubling this fall, the federal agency's acting administrator said Monday.
For the next 12 to 18 months, the agency will be hard-pressed to ensure its survival, much less guarantee that the Northwest will retain access to low-cost hydropower and continue costly efforts to restore threatened salmon runs, acting administrator Steve Wright said.
In a luncheon address at a conference organized by the Hatfield School of Government at Portland State University, the Northwest Power Planning Council, the Northwest Public Power Council and the BPA, Wright elaborated on statements he made last week that salmon-saving measures might have to be suspended if BPA is to avert electrical blackouts and avoid financial meltdown.
The agency, which provides about 50 percent of the region's electricity, will try to continue some salmon-protection measures, he said, but it will be unable to do so if this year's unusually dry weather persists. Although electricity rate increases this fall will be painful, Wright said, he expects the agency to keep rates from doubling.
Wholesale electricity prices have increased tenfold or more in the past year, from a range of $20 to $30 per megawatt hour to a range of $200 to $400 per megawatt hour.
Water flow in the Columbia River and its tributaries is now forecast to be the second-lowest level since record-keeping began in 1929, Wright said. During the lowest year, in 1977, the BPA was able to make up its generating shortfall by buying electricity at reasonable prices.
"In 1977, California power was available to help us get through the crisis," Wright said. "This year, it's not."
"It's a little hard to imagine all this stuff coming together at once," said Kevin Clark of Seattle City Light, a municipal utility that serves about 600,000 customers. "The convergence of all these problems may be too much for people to absorb."
Tim Stearns of the National Wildlife Federation said salmon are certain to suffer if BPA stops diverting water through spillways at dams to give young salmon passage and instead sends the water through turbines to generate power. "We have really bad choices," Stearns said. "We can either stop spill or bankrupt Bonneville."
Don Sampson, executive director of the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission, said salmon will not survive in the Columbia unless energy demands from the dams are reduced. "If we continue to allow the river to be viewed only for hydropower, eventually there will be no more salmon," Sampson said.
The two-day conference, called the Northwest Forum on Preserving the Benefits of the Columbia River, continues today at Portland State University.
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