The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) of Biden’s administration has issued a recommendation to breach dams along the Snake River to help the propagation of endangered salmon, a plan that would end up jeopardizing power supplies across the Pacific Northwest and further stress the already tenuous supply chain crisis.
A draft report sent out on Monday from the agency seemed to suggest that the four lower Snake River dams would need to be breached in order to lower the travel time for the fish, along with reducing the stress placed on the juvenile fish when it comes to encounters with powerhouses. The “earthen portion of each dam would be removed, and a naturalized river channel would be established around the concrete spillway and powerhouse structures,” explained the released report.
Despite these proposals, however, the dams they want to break are responsible for generating roughly 3,033 megawatts of power capacity for those living along the Pacific Northwest, as stated on a face sheet from 2016 from the Bonneville Power Administration. The entity went further to add, just this month, that the cost for replacing the dams would end up being $415-$860 million per year out until 2045, equating to a total cost of up to $19.6 billion and raising the average power costs for American households by almost 18% over the same duration. These replacements are made even more expensive over time “due to increasingly stringent clean energy standards and electrification-driven load growth.”
Due to this, many legislators from the area, which includes Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA), are asking for President Joe Biden to cancel the proposal, highlighting that the administration just recently issued a declaration of emergency last month because of the country’s grid capacity.
“Today, with the release of these draft reports, one thing is clear: the Biden administration is talking a big game on carbon goals while simultaneously engaging in actions to undermine valuable clean, affordable, and renewable power resources on the Columbia River System, thus compromising energy stability across the region,” stated the release from the legislators.
When speaking about data obtained from the University of Washington, the legislators highlighted that salmon returns have been on the rise since 2019, with spring Chinook salmon returns going as high as 31% above the 10-year average. “We urge this administration to consider the facts, prioritize transparency, and utilize sound science and input from all tribes, industry groups, and the ratepayers themselves before coming to an outcome in any final report that would be catastrophic to the communities we represent,” continued the release.
Last summer, blackouts swept across the Pacific Northwest — which were intentionally caused in order to help maintain capacity in the long run — during a massive heatwave, which resulted in the deaths of about a dozen people. The North American Electric Reliability Corporation carried out a reliability assessment which stated earlier this year that quite a bit of the United States sits at “high risk” or “elevated risk” when it comes to rolling blackouts this summer.
Rep. Dan Newhouse (R-WA) brought forth the Federal Columbia River Power System Certainty Act back in June in order to help ensure that the dams along the lower section of the Snake River remain intact.
“Amidst a national energy and supply chain crisis, it is unconscionable that dam-breaching advocates … repeatedly attempt to force a predetermined, unscientific conclusion that will put our communities who are already struggling at risk,” Newhouse stated. “In the Pacific Northwest, not only do we depend on this critical infrastructure for clean, renewable, and affordable energy, but transportation for 60% of the nation’s wheat. The Snake River Dams are integral to flood control, navigation, irrigation, agriculture, and recreation in Central Washington and our region cannot afford to lose them.”