Well, Mike Simpson isn’t getting many folks to jump on his damwagon, but it seems everybody has a different reason. Simpson broached a plan to breach the lower 4 Snake River dams back in February. As he and many others have said, if we want salmon in Idaho, the best chance is to restore the lower Snake to a free-flowing river. Lord knows, “We’ve tried everything else” Simpson says.
His proposal is supported by tribes, addresses energy, transportation and local economies. It also shackled the legal fights for years. See, there’s something to make everybody mad, from the energy brokers to the wheat farmers to the trial lawyers.
This week was notable for Washington Governor Inslee, and Senator Patty Murray kicking dirt on the wheels. These Democrats, while wringing their hands about needing to do “something” to save the dwindling salmon runs gave specific reasons why they couldn’t support Simpson’s proposal, stating it needs to: “honor tribal treaty rights, ensure reliable transportation and use of the river, ongoing access for anglers and sport fishers and the continued delivery of reliable hydropower.” In other words, these upstanding Northwest Democrats can’t agree with a Republican because his proposal includes everything they want. Oh, and they picked a bone about the “process”, promising collaboration, getting everybody together.
Maybe West-side Democrats can’t be seen working with a Republican like Simpson. I hope the salmon don’t go extinct while we wait for partisanship to subside.
But the partisans are having a heyday deriding Simpson’s damwagon. For some reason, Republican Party leaders keep referring to dynamite, blowing up dams. Makes the “Save Our Dams” slogan fit right in, even if it doesn’t have a shred of truth in it. I guess if you buy into “The Big Lie”, throwing out little lies becomes acceptable.
Our local paper ran an opinion from Ed Schweitzer, founder of a big energy systems component manufacturer opposing Simpson’s damwagon. He said, “As we get more solar and wind, we need more hydropower, not less!”. I’m no expert in power systems, and he is, but he must know that energy use per capita in the Northwest has decreased by about 25% in the last thirty years. We have made more efficient homes, appliances, and at the same time grown the economy.
Bonneville Power Administration of course opposes losing any generation in that Snake River canyon. They sell the power they generate to utilities on long term contracts; most those contracts expire in 2028. BPA’s costs to NW utilities have been low for years. BPA made up for these low costs by selling any surplus power expensive to California. But California has ramped up solar, which is much cheaper than BPA’s hydro and their balance sheet shows the problem. They have become the most highly leveraged US utility, paying over $1.56B in interest and fees in 2018. Their reserves dropped and they have raised rates to now be higher than many other providers. In such straits, no wonder they can’t get on the damwagon. They own too many dams to see it any other way.
Here’s the rub. BPA’s Columbia dams make all the power needed for its contractual obligations. All the rest generated, including the lower 4 Snake Dams, which by themselves only produce 5-13% of BPA’s power, is surplus, which it sells.
I’m waiting for former President Trump, the great disrupter, to get on the damwagon. He said he wanted to drain the swamp. The Snake Lake could stand to be drained.
When Idaho spawned smolts can get to the Pacific and back to abundantly spawn in our clear streams and rivers, we can be proud we’ve done a good thing.