SHELTON — Mason PUD 3 commissioners voted to support four lower Snake River dams.
The dams provide nearly 11 percent of the federally generated hydropower in the Pacific Northwest.
The dams — Ice Harbor, Little Goose, Lower Granite and Lower Monumental — are located in the state’s southeast corner.
The commissioners said the PUD 3’s electricity is 98 percent carbon-free, thanks in part to the dams. They stated that removal of the dams’ renewable energy from the regional power mix would impede the PUD 3’s ability to meet state requirements in a new 100 percent clean energy law.
“Power from wind and solar is becoming a bigger part of the Pacific Northwest’s energy mix,” said PUD 3 Manager Annette Creekpaum. “When the wind doesn’t blow, or the sun doesn’t shine, hydropower dams, unlike other power plants, can quickly adjust their output to balance energy needs in the region, while still providing carbon-free electricity.”
Michael Simon, a federal district court judge in Portland, ordered dam operators to consider the removal the four dams. His ruling came as regional managers are working on a new plan to balance fish habitat, power production, irrigation, flood control, navigation and recreation in the Columbia River Basin.
“Customers of public power utilities in the Pacific Northwest have spent nearly $17 billion since 1978 on dam modifications,” Creekpaum said. “The expenditures include habitat restoration, hatcheries and increased spilling of water (bypassing generation) to help in salmon survival.”
More than 96 percent of young salmon now survive passage at each dam on their migration downstream, according to PUD 3. Poor ocean conditions have somewhat reduced current fish counts. However, as recent as 2014, there were more chinook, sockeye and coho salmon swimming upstream from Bonneville Dam than any year since the dam was built in 1938.
Other activities threatened by dam removal include:
- Irrigation for more than 7 million acres of farmland, producing $8 billion in agricultural income from wheat, apples, potatoes, cherries, Walla Walla sweet onions and other produce.
- Barge shipping for more than 3.5 million tons of cargo annually. To carry the same amount of cargo would require more than 35,140 rail cars or 135,000 semi-trucks.
- Flood control.
- Recreation, including fishing, boating and sailboarding.
Mason PUD 3 is among 15 public utilities in the state that has adopted resolutions supporting the lower Snake River dams. Each utility gets most of its electricity from 31 federal dams in the Columbia River Basin.
Mason PUD 1 commissioners also support the resolution.