Last month, I talked about how renewable but variable wind and solar generation are not comparable replacements when carbonemitting but dispatchable coal generation is retired. This trend threatens resource adequacy, potentially leading to blackouts. We have another threat to grid reliability in the Northwest driven by differing opinions.
CCEC buys electricity from the Bonneville Power Administration, a federal agency created by Congress in 1937. BPA is charged with marketing the electricity generated by the 31 federal hydroelectric dams in the Columbia River drainage. The Federal Columbia River Power System (FCRPS) generates enough electricity to power more than 5 million homes. Like all Northwest consumer-owned electric distribution utilities, CCEC has a statutory right to a portion of this renewable, carbon-free, dispatchable electricity source, which makes up 85% of CCEC’s energy portfolio.
The FCRPS is a crown jewel of the Northwest Along with the benefits of abundant, low-cost, clean, renewable energy, building the FCRPS drastically changed the environment of another Northwest crown jewel—salmon and steelhead. This is the source of differing opinions. One opinion believes fish populations can remain healthy with the dams in place.Another opinion believes dams threaten the long-term health of fish populations.
Reconciling these differences of opinion is hard because the science differs as much as the opinions. As I mentioned last month, ideally opinions are formed from facts. Here are a few relevant facts about FCRPS and fish.
- For every dollar CCEC pays to BPA for electricity, 25% to 30% goes to support BPA’s fish and wildlife programs. BPA’s gross revenue is about $2 billion annually. The people who benefit from the FCRPS are paying hundreds of millions of dollars annually for BPA projects and programs that promote healthy fish runs.
- Since the dams were built, no fish population has gone extinct, and many have improved. Better fish ladders, fish friendly spillways and bypasses, smolt barging programs and fish-friendly turbine designs are a few of the many things electric rates pay for to support fish.
- Breaching the four lower Snake River dams threatens the reliability and resource adequacy of the Northwest electric system. Until there is a reliable, dispatchable, clean source of electricity to replace the lower Snake River dams, breaching would lead to blackouts.
- No scientific evidence to date demonstrates that fish are better off with a free-flowing lower Snake River. Unfortunately, there is little data available on river conditions prior to construction of the lower Snake River dams so conclusions are mixed.
At CCEC, we believe that dams can coexist with and promote healthy fish populations.
We will continue to work with our industry partners and regional stakeholders to preserve our hydropower resources. You can learn more at nwriverpartners.org/resources.
General Manager and CEO
Coos-Curry Electric Cooperative