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Dam Removal Still on the Table

by Chris Mulick, Herald Olympia Bureau
Tri-City Herald, September 15, 2002

Dam breaching supporters are pressing the Bonneville Power Administration to keep the issue on the table as the federal power marketer mulls its future role in the Northwest.

The agency and the Northwest Power Planning Council scheduled a Tri-City hearing Monday to take comment on how the power the agency sells should be divvied up once some of its power sales contracts begin to expire in 2006. The 6 p.m. hearing at the WestCoast Pasco Hotel is the first of six the agency is conducting this month throughout the region.

On the table is an agreement between the region's public and private utilities for federal hydropower distribution they believe will provide all parties with certainty. Most significantly, the proposed 20-year contracts would secure the benefits of the federal dams for the Northwest from other regions of the country that may want a piece of the pie in one form or another. The deal is unusual in that it was hammered out by two powerful and often warring groups of stakeholders.

"We're optimistic the proposal we're submitting is one that is reasonable," said Benton PUD Manager Jim Sanders.

But environmentalists and tribal representatives, armed with a recent study suggesting breaching would have minimal impact on the economy, have submitted their own plans that continue to call for dam removal.

Seattle-based Save Our Wild Salmon issued news releases Thursday trying to drum up interest in the meetings, saying the utility proposal doesn't adequately fund conservation programs, include investments for new environmentally friendly power sources and go far enough to ensure fish recovery.

Some Tri-City officials are concerned they will pack the meeting.

"We're going to get blown out of the water if Bonneville and the power council count noses," said Franklin PUD Manager Ken Sugden.

The utility proposal would effectively allocate the power BPA sells to customers on a percentage basis and make those customers responsible for selling surplus and buying extra juice when they need it.

Some, including Benton and Franklin PUDs, argue Bonneville does too much buying and selling in the market for its customers. They contend BPA's massive presence in the market messes up prices for other Northwest participants when the agency is buying and selling hundreds of megawatts at a time.

Environmental groups like the idea of doling out Bonneville power on a percentage basis because it would solve allocation problems that otherwise could be associated with breaching the dams. But they fear the utility proposal would give utilities too much control over river operations, making it easier for fish operations to be compromised.

"We want to see the river operations power stay with Bonneville," said Kell McAboy of Save Our Wild Salmon.

The Columbia River Intertribal Fish Commission has submitted its own proposal that specifically calls for dam breaching. The commission believes the dams could be replaced by increased conservation, natural gas-fired plants, fuel cells, solar panels, wind farms and other sources that could be placed in or near population centers. They would be paid for through money saved from canceling major power line projects.

Chris Mulick
Dam Removal Still on the Table
Tri-City Herald, September 15, 2002

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