The White House Council on Environmental Quality is making overtures about breaching the lower Snake River dams—Ice Harbor, Lower Monumental, Little Goose and Lower Granite—all part of the Federal Columbia River Power System and located in Southeastern Washington.
However, if these four dams are breached, Pacific Northwest residents could face potentially significant price increases and energy shortages.
Price Hikes and Energy Shortages?
The Washington state Commerce Department has predicted that demand for electricity will double by 2050, and studies show that this demand for electricity will outpace supply. Our power grid will soon be under unsustainable pressure. With soaring electricity demand, climate change and the aggressive movement to retire fossil fuel generation in the West, our region faces an energy resource deficit of unprecedented proportions, putting us at growing risk of rolling blackouts.
The lower Snake River dams produce about as much annual energy (1,000 average megawatts) as a large nuclear power plant. But they can produce up to three times that amount during periods of high demand. As many as 750,000 homes rely on the carbon-free power generated by the lower Snake River dams. During times of extreme need, the lower Snake River dams can power up to 2.25 million homes.
Watch Modern Electric Water Company's video on this subject, "The Truth about the Lower Snake River Dams":
Additionally, it takes 5 megawatts of wind/solar/batteries to replace one megawatt of hydropower capacity, so removing the lower Snake River dams (3,000 megawatts) would require a new buildout of 15,000 megawatts of new energy resources.
Hydropower is the cleanest energy in the United States. It also balances our power grid, compensating for shortfalls created by intermittent energy sources such as wind and solar. Hydropower also prevents 50 million metric tons of carbon emissions from entering our atmosphere. This affordable, dependable, carbon-free electricity is critical to our region. In fact, nearly 90% of our region’s renewable energy comes from hydropower.
But What About the Fish?
The lower Snake River dams all meet and even exceed federal and state standards for safe fish passage. In fact, hydropower's track record in robust fish mitigation activities is solid. (See: "An Honest Discussion about Saving Our Salmon.") The greatest threat to salmon is not from hydropower; it's from rising sea temperatures, which could lead to a 90% decline in Chinook salmon runs, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA.
A Price Tag Too Big for Washingtonians
We have yet to see an independent engineering, and cost-benefit and fish-benefit analysis, but recent studies concluded that breaching the four lower Snake River dams would cost taxpayers between $10.3 billion and $77 billion.
On the other hand, preserving the lower Snake River dams will help keep Washingtonians' energy costs low.
Hydropower is the reason our utility has some of the lowest residential energy rates in the nation—an astonishingly low 5-7 cents per kWh. That low-cost, reliable energy is not just a privilege; it's a life-saving necessity, particularly to heat homes during bitter cold winter months or to prevent blackouts from threatening public safety.
Hydropower as an existing, clean baseload energy resource is more critical than ever, and the Snake River dams are a large part of the solution.