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APPA Underscores Key Role That Lower Snake River Dams Play in Maintaining Grid Reliability

Recent extreme weather events have shown that the Lower Snake River Dams are an irreplaceable resource not just in the future but right now — both in terms of energy, capacity, and other grid services key to maintaining reliable electricity, Scott Corwin, President and CEO of the American Public Power Association, said in a statement for the record submitted to key House members on Jan. 29.

The statement for the record was submitted for a Jan. 30 House hearing, “Exposing President Biden’s Plan to Dismantle the Snake River Dams and the Negative Impacts to the United States.”

“Public power has a strong presence in the Pacific Northwest and a long and proud history of providing low-cost, reliable electricity that has been a bedrock of the region’s growth and prosperity, much of which can be attributed to hydropower,” Corwin noted.

Many of APPA’s members buy power produced by the Lower Snake River Dams, which are part of the broader Columbia River Power System, or own and operate their own hydropower projects.

“Making full use of the nation’s hydropower resource is key to ensuring that the nation’s – and the Pacific Northwest’s – grid remains reliable and resilient, and that utilities can meet emission reduction goals,” wrote Corwin.

“It is difficult to overstate how critical it is to maintain the LRSDs as the region -- and the nation -- seeks to lower emissions while maintaining electric reliability and affordability over the long-term,” he said.

“Recent extreme weather events have demonstrated that the LSRDs are an irreplaceable resource not just in the future but right now — both in terms of energy, capacity, and other grid services key to maintaining reliable electricity. Moreover, public power utilities recognize and are committed to scientific, cost-effective mitigation for the impacts of the federal hydropower system. Costs related to fish and wildlife mitigation, including the cost of lost power generation, comprise a quarter or more of the Bonneville Power Administration’s power rates. The LSRDs feature state-of-the-art fish passage technology that greatly improves in-river fish survival, achieving spring juvenile survival at 96 percent and summer migrating fish survival at 93 percent,” the statement for the record said.

Settlement Agreement

Given the criticality of the LSRDs to maintaining electric reliability in the Pacific Northwest, APPA was alarmed and dismayed with the settlement agreement that was filed on December 14, 2023, in federal district court in Oregon that sets commitments made by the U.S. Government and implemented through a Memorandum of Understanding, “Columbia River Basin Restoration Initiative,” between the United States; the States of Oregon and Washington; the Nez Perce, Umatilla, Warm Springs, and Yakama Tribes; and environmental non-profit organizations.

While the U.S. Government says that the agreement does not “constitute a decision by the [U.S. Government] to support legislation to authorize dam breaching, the [U.S. Government] continues to be committed to exploring restoration of the Lower Snake River, including dam breach.”

The agreement then outlines a plan to consider many of the issues that would need to be addressed —  most notably, replacement power —  to get to a place where the dams can be removed.

The agreement “clearly shows that the Biden administration’s goal is dam breaching, a conclusion that runs counter to decades of studies, science, and governmental actions, and an outcome that would destabilize the economy of an entire region of the nation,” Corwin told lawmakers.

“Not only does this expose a severe lack of understanding about the importance of keeping the lights on, it also reveals a misplaced desire to undermine our nation’s essential emissions-free hydropower system without considering the cost,” the statement for the record said.

Implementation of the agreement “would weaken the administration’s stated greenhouse gas reduction goals by undermining hydropower, an always available, emissions-free source of electric generation critical to grid stability. As our nation depends on electricity to power more of the economy, we need more generating resources —  not fewer. Simply put, this proposal flies in the face of common sense.”

APPA “strongly opposes the agreement and is alarmed with the opaque process by which it was developed,” Corwin said.

Removal of the LSRDs “may prove to be a tipping point, nudging the Northwest system into acute scarcity of electric supply. The federal hydropower system, and particularly the LSRDs, are in a critical position to maintain grid reliability and prevent blackouts in the West. Moreover, no existing alternative technologies can provide the same combination of low cost, reliable, and flexible attributes, and it is far from clear that dam removal will result in meaningful fish recovery commensurate with costs.”

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