Power company: Dam removal would hurt
reliability, raise costs
U.S. Rep. Mike Simpson’s $33.5 billion
plan to remove four dams on the Lower Snake River would hurt
the reliability of the region’s power grid and increase
rates, a representative of a regional power company says.
“Hydropower has been our savior to not
only have reliable, but also affordable energy,” said Andy
Barth, business development and community relations officer
for Inland Power and Light.
Inland Power serves 13 counties in
eastern Washington and northern Idaho. Avista primarily
serves urban areas, while Inland Power serves most of the
Roughly 83% of the region’s power is
generated by dams, and 11% by nuclear generators.
That keeps power rates among the
lowest in the country, Barth said. The national average rate
is 13.04 cents per kilowatt-hour. Inland Power’s is 8.37
Barth spoke during the recent Spokane
Simpson, an Idaho Republican, has not
proposed legislation, but in February released a $33.5
billion “concept” for salmon recovery, which includes
removing the Lower Granite, Little Goose, Lower Monumental
and Ice Harbor dams on the lower Snake River in 2030 and
Breaching the four dams would remove
1,000 megawatts of peak capacity from the power grid, Barth
“As of right now, there is no plan for
how we are going to replace that with reliable energy
sources, something that can produce around the clock,” Barth
said. “If Washington is not careful, we will experience the
rolling blackouts that California did. It’s a matter of
‘when,’ and not ‘if.’”
One thousand megawatts can power
800,000 homes, Barth said.
The power grid peak capacity is
currently 92.3 million megawatts, Barth said. As the region
moves toward using more power for all-electric vehicles, the
demand for electricity will “skyrocket,” he said.
“Taking electric generation off of the
grid during this time of transition and demand increase is
irresponsible and negligent,” Barth said.
Wind and solar power are good
intermittent power generators, but they are not stable and
constant, he said.
“When the sun goes down, solar quits
producing,” Barth said. “If the wind conditions are not just
right, wind can’t produce.”
Eventually, battery back-ups will be
the key to solar and wind power success, Barth said, but
battery technology is nowhere near ready to be used for
large-scale energy storage.
Clean, dispatchable on-demand power
must be in place and operational prior to dam breaching, a
representative of Simpson told the Capital Press.
Using wind and solar power as the
primary sources of energy would raise utility costs, the
cost of agricultural inputs and outputs and shipping, and
even the cost of removing the dams, Barth said.
“This is going to be extremely
expensive, take many years to finally pay off these costs
and we don’t have a direct answer as to who plans to pay for
all of this — which usually means, when the government
doesn’t provide the funds, the taxpayers will pay for it,”
The concept is intended to reduce the
operational costs of the Bonneville Power Administration,
the region’s federal power marketing agency, and give it
greater flexibility, Simpson’s representative said.
Direct power land use of wind and
solar, land that can not be used for any other purpose,
would be 567 square miles, 2.5 times the size of Portland
and Seattle combined, Barth said.
“That is a lot of land that will need
to be used just for solar and wind generation, and we don’t
have that kind of resource to provide, along with a growing
state,” Barth said.
Simpson’s representative said the
concept proposes investments in battery, pump and hydrogen
storage and possibly small modular nuclear reactors, “all of
which would be clean and firm power replacement
alternatives.” They could be sited around the Northwest to
optimize the efficiency and reliability of the grid.
This is the fourth version of a plan
Simpson has pitched over the years, Barth said. The latest
concept includes a 35-year moratorium on dam litigation.
“This little tidbit has a lot of
people who would normally oppose the breaching of the dams
at least stopping to listen,” Barth said.
The moratorium does not cover all dam
litigation, just certain parts of the fish recovery process,
“Rather than an overarching dam
litigation protection, it’s very specific and there can
still be dam litigation on other sections of the dam fight,”
Normally, Congress cannot dictate what
courts do, he said, adding that Inland Power wants
assurances that the courts would uphold the litigation
Barth said the power company
“honestly” doesn’t know how likely Simpson’s plan is to move
forward. Simpson has claimed the plan won’t happen without
the support of all Pacific Northwest lawmakers, Barth said.
“He knows that if you say dam
breaching, it is a conversation stopper, but he’s asking
producers to look at the concept,” Simpson’s representative
“It’s common in government for people
to say, ‘If you want to know what’s in the bill, pass it and
then look at the details,’” Barth said. “We’re very afraid
that’s going to happen here with this plan. It’s such a
large and lofty goal with so many moving parts, we’re not
going to know the actual implication it’s going to have
until it’s too late.”
In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C.
section 107, any copyrighted material
herein is distributed without profit or
payment to those who have expressed a
prior interest in receiving this
information for non-profit research and
educational purposes only. For more
information go to: