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Quick Fact: Where Does OPALCO Stand on Regional Power and the Dams?

The region is facing a big transformation through decarbonization to combat climate change. Everything is at stake: environmental health, species survival, power affordability, regional control of power resources and concerns about having enough power to meet demand.

This situation involves lots of moving parts, major capital projects, government policies and funding—as well as conflicting stakeholder interests. OPALCO is following the issues closely and is at the table through its lobbyists at PNGC and WRECA. While the Co-op has little influence on regional power issues it is focusing its attention on what it can do: efficiency, conservation and local resiliency measures that will help members prepare for a new energy world and reduce carbon in our local environment.

There are proposals in the region to remove the four Lower Snake River Dams (LSRD). OPALCO supports the science-based approach taken by Governor Inslee and Senator Murray in their Lower Snake River Dams: Benefit Replacement Report.

In the Recommendations of Governor Inslee and Senator Murray following the Conclusion of the Joint Federal-State Process on Salmon Recovery, Governor Inslee and Senator Murray say, “…. we are adamant that in any circumstance where the Lower Snake River Dams would be breached, the replacement and mitigation of their benefits must be pursued before decommissioning and breaching. This is especially true in ensuring that reliable, dispatchable, and carbon-free energy is available and operating. Some assert that energy scarcity and environmental calamity are inevitable results of changing our approach to hydropower on the Lower Snake River Dams, and that doing so will derail the Pacific Northwest’s decarbonization goals as we confront the climate crisis. We believe that is an oversimplified binary choice, and it is one that we do not accept or see as inevitable.”

OPALCO’s mission is to provide reliable power to its membership. As soon as the region develops a reliable replacement plan for the power produced by the LSRD and full funding for the solution, OPALCO will be in a responsible position to carefully consider the situation and take a position on dam removal.

To fight climate change, the region is planning to double the amount of electricity it needs by 2050. The low-carbon northwest hydro system is a key part of the solution. The regional power plans in place today depend on all current hydro production to rapidly decarbonize emissions from transportation, heating and power in the coming decades.

To double electricity generation, the region is working to address four fundamental questions:

  1. Where will the new energy come from?
  2. For land-intensive energy like solar and wind power, where will it be located?
  3. How much will it cost?
  4. How long will it take to develop?

Keep in mind that all the wind power in the region, which took 25 years to develop, is a small fraction of what will be needed to meet a doubling of load and WA Clean Energy Transformation Act (CETA) requirements. Solutions will require millions of acres of land and many years to acquire, permit and develop.

In the meanwhile, OPALCO is taking aggressive action to replace fossil fuels with cleaner, lower-cost electricity for heating and transportation—including ferries. Removing carbon from our air and water is a significant contribution to the health of our marine environment and will have immediate results for the health of ALL species in the Salish Sea. Reduction of carbon-based ocean warming, acidification and vessel noise are critical to species survival.

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