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Some Blame Power Rates on Salmon

by Andrew Sirocchi, Herald staff writer
Tri-City Herald, July 8, 2006

A Pasco school board member at a Congressional field hearing Friday worried about keeping the lights on in schools if salmon recovery efforts in the Columbia River continue to drive up power rates.

A representative of a Spokane charitable agency conceived a host of social ills being provoked if the working poor can't afford rising electric bills because of fish enhancements.

And the owner of a family farm wondered how he could continue operating when his profit margins keep being eaten up by the rising costs of restoring threatened and endangered Columbia and Snake river fish.

"The fact we are still here is surprising not only to us but also to our banker," said Ron Reimann, owner of T&R Farms in Pasco (and irrigates by pumping water from behind Ice Harbor reservoir adds bluefish). "I am just as important as a fish, and I can damn well tell you my 3-year-old granddaughter is much more important."

Reimann was part of an 11-witness panel that met Friday with members of the House Water and Power Subcommittee in Pasco to discuss the effects of salmon recovery efforts.

Other panelists were with the Bonneville Power Administration, federal agencies, as well as environmental and tribal groups, who spoke to Reps. Doc Hastings and Cathy McMorris, both Republican members of the subcommittee.

(Data source: Edison Electric Institute) Electric service price data from a January 1, 2006, survey of more than 150 independently-owned utilities. While the Northwest continues to enjoy some of the lowest power rates in the nation, business and farm representatives warned of a fish policy they believe threatens the Northwest's economic future and of continuous legal battles with environmental groups that are creating too much uncertainty for investors to do business in Washington.

"Just to illustrate how massive the recovery efforts are, if the water being spilled over dams to assist in fish passage was used instead to generate power, it would be enough to meet the city of Seattle's annual electric energy needs," Stephen J. Wright, BPA administrator and chief executive officer.

"And spill is just one of the many measures we are taking to assist salmon recovery. BPA ratepayers pay most of those costs through their power bills," he said.

Wright said a judicial order to spill more water for Columbia River salmon recovery last summer cost Northwest ratepayers $75 million in lost hydropower but a bill that would direct BPA to include those "lost" revenues as part of the cost of saving endangered fish drew criticism from tribes and environmental representatives.

While no one questioned that BPA has invested billions in salmon recovery efforts such as fish ladders, habitat improvements and spillways, environmental groups and tribes objected to tallying the unrealized hydropower as part of the cost of recovery.

"No agency should be allowed to convert potential revenue to a loss," said Rebecca Miles, commissioner with the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission in Portland.

Miles added a request that groups start looking at salmon recovery "as an investment and not as a loss."

The Endangered Species Compliance and Transparency Cost Act, proposed by McMorris and co-sponsored by Hastings, would direct power marketing groups such as the BPA to include how much it costs for them to comply with the ESA and how much they lose from water that isn't used for power generation.

The act received wide support from business and power representatives but Terry Flores, director of Northwest River Partners, an environmental group in Portland, said singling out fish recovery efforts as the reason for increasing power costs is misleading and shows a bias against fish recovery.

Flores said BPA could just as well stop giving sweetheart deals to aluminum plants to keep power rates down.

"Blaming salmon recovery for the increased cost is unfair," she said. "We support transparency ... but as written, this legislation has short comings," she said.

Solutions to the struggle of balancing power and fish needs for all the competing interested groups remained few although all the parties represented Friday said they felt everyone would have to work together to come up with an answer.

Hastings said in his opening statements the government may have to rethink its harvest policy for threatened and endangered species of salmon and steelhead.

"Salmon is the only endangered critter used for human consumption," he said after the three-hour meeting. "We are focusing all of our efforts on the habitat side and in the end we're still harvesting an endangered fish."

Commercial fishing groups were not represented at the meeting, although the West Coast fleet has faced sharp reductions and some have had particularly difficult years, in part, because of restrictions on salmon fishing and other endangered species.

McMorris, who co-chairs the water and power subcommittee, said on this side of the mountains, finding a balance between fish and power means protecting endangered salmon but recognizing that the Columbia and Snake rivers have a major economic purpose as well.

"The ESA is upfront and personal here in Eastern Washington -- and our farmers and electricity consumers are paying for it," she said.

Related Sites:
Endangered Species Compliance and Transparency Act by searching for Bill HR4857

Congressional Hearing Focuses on Power Rates, Fish Costs by Columbia Basin Bulletin, 7/14/6
Some Blame Power Rates on Salmon by Andrew Sirocchi, Tri-City Herald, 7/8/6
Hearing Covers Debate on Detailing Fish Costs by Jim Camden, Spokesman Review, 7/8/6
Power Users, Salmon Advocates Square Off Again in Hearing by Shannon Dininny, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 7/5/6
Dam Debate Heads to Pascoby Jim Camden, Spokesman Review, 7/5/6

Andrew Sirocchi, Herald staff writer
Some Blame Power Rates on Salmon
Tri-City Herald, July 8, 2006

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