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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 initiative Solutions for salmon recovery in the Columbia River Basin https://www.governor.wa.gov/news-media/inslee-and-murray-statement-establishing-solutions-salmon-recovery-columbia-river-basin.

The DRAFT report published by Inslee and Murray in June 2022 begins to address the complexity of issues involved with dam removal: https://www.lsrdoptions.org/ but there are still many unanswered questions. This DRAFT estimates the cost to replace services provided by the dams at $10.3 – $27.2 billion – and anticipated costs are still not available for several necessary actions. A key component is that Congressional authorization would be needed before breaching could be considered – and would require establishing timelines and milestones for results, agreement on a comprehensive funding strategy, additional analyses to maximize benefits at all stages of the process, continued technological advancements and implementation of a significant infrastructure program.

OPALCO’s mission is to provide reliable power to its membership. 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.

OPALCO is closely following the development of the Inslee-Murray plan as it is reviewed and finalized and is still looking for definitive answers to these key 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?

Wind power in the region took 25 years to develop and 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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