Article from The Spokesman – Review

Wed., Feb. 28, 2024

Cathy McMorris Rodgers and Jim Matheson: Lower Snake River Dams vital to local economy

By Cathy McMorris Rodgers and Jim Matheson

Energy is foundational to everything we do. It drives local economies, powers technological advances across American industry and allows families to stay comfortable and safe in the harshest of conditions. In Western states like ours, reliable electricity has become the cornerstone of opportunity and prosperity. The Columbia River and the dams along the Lower Snake River have strengthened our grid, lowered energy costs and made Washington state a leader in reducing carbon emissions.

Unfortunately, President Biden is taking steps to shut down this critical energy resource. The administration’s misguided Lower Snake River Dams settlement agreement was forged behind closed doors by a select group of people. These four dams are capable of powering over 2.4 million homes. Breaching them would jeopardize reliable electricity, raise costs for families and threaten the livelihoods of farmers who rely on the irrigation and barging benefits the dams provide.

Last month, the House Energy and Commerce Committee held a hearing on the importance of these dams. The committee brought administration officials in to testify as to why they were so intent on tearing down critical infrastructure that has done so much to strengthen our state’s economic, energy and climate leadership. The committee also heard from experts about the consequences the region would face if the dams were breached.

For more than two years, the administration ignored thousands of voices from the Pacific Northwest region begging to be heard as it negotiated an agreement that commits $1 billion to dam-breaching efforts without considering the consequences. The agreement is based on an inconclusive report by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration that itself acknowledges dam breaching may not even save endangered salmon.

Breaching the dams would result in significant costs and increase uncertainty for the electric grid. Even proponents of dam removal acknowledge that replacing the benefits of the Lower Snake River dams could cost upward of $31 billion and a viable substitute that can replace the amount of baseload energy produced by the dams remains elusive.

The Bonneville Power Administration, the region’s grid operator and power generator, reports that “without the energy and capacity these projects supply, the region’s ‘loss of load probability’ increases.” In other words, breaching these dams will raise electricity rates and increase the likelihood of rolling blackouts. The state of Washington is already facing rolling brownouts and increasingly higher risks for blackouts. Breaching the dams would ensure these brownouts and blackouts are our future.

This is not the future Western states want. We should be unleashing the full potential of hydropower, which is already responsible for nearly 80% of the region’s power generation. This carbon-free resource is quite literally keeping the lights on in the Pacific Northwest, especially during times of peak usage.

In January, the Northwest was hammered by record-setting cold. As the temperatures fell, the demand for electricity broke records as families turned up their thermostats to stay warm. In one hour on Jan. 13, the BPA system hit 11,396 MW of demand, setting a record not seen in the decades since the region’s aluminum smelters shut down.

How did this happen? The wind stopped blowing, bringing wind-powered generation to a halt, which threatened the entire power grid. As a result, Puget Sound Energy had to ask people to stop heating their homes in order to conserve natural gas. In Eastern Washington, the 10,000 MWh boost from the dams saved lives and kept the lights on.

This story isn’t new. We saw the same thing happen several years ago when Washington sent 16,000 MWh of energy from the Lower Snake River dams to California when blackouts threatened the state’s ability to get life-saving power to people.

The Lower Snake River Dams are a clean anchor for our diverse energy portfolio in Washington state. They produce reliable, affordable energy 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. This ensures stability for the grid, especially during periods of high demand, while also helping reduce carbon emissions. The dams keep energy costs low and the lights on. They give businesses a competitive edge, empower families, prevent floods, support navigation and create recreational opportunities.

The reality is that demand for electricity is rising and will continue increasing. Baseload energy sources, like hydropower, are vital to keeping pace with this growth in demand, especially in Western states, which is why we will continue fighting to save the dams and preserve the vital energy resources that keep our lights on and power the economy.

Cathy McMorris Rodgers, of Spokane, represents Washington’s 5th District in Congress. Jim Matheson is CEO of the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association in Arlington, Virginia. He previously served seven terms as a U.S. representative from Utah.