As leaders of two Central Oregon electric utility cooperatives, our mission is to provide safe, reliable and affordable electricity to our region’s most rural reaches. Our rapid population growth combined with an increasingly complex utility industry is a challenge requiring collaboration at the local, state and federal levels. We must work together to meet our communities’ energy needs successfully.
We wish Gov. Kate Brown exhibited the same spirit of collaboration. Last October, the governors of Oregon, Washington, Idaho and Montana agreed to sit down with a diverse group of stakeholders to negotiate a plan for managing the lower Snake River dams effectively.
The unprecedented effort aims to restore a healthy salmon population without adversely impacting affordable electricity and local economies. The four-state process follows a three-year scientific study led by federal agencies, which concluded hydroelectric operations on the lower Snake River dams do not violate the Endangered Species Act’s protections for fish and wildlife. In short, they determined the science showed dam removal unnecessary. Yet before the ink dried on this new collaborative framework, Gov. Kate Brown filed a notice of intent to sue the federal government to reverse this decision with the ultimate objective to remove the dams. She is choosing litigation over collaboration.
Consumer-owned utilities rely on the federal Columbia River power system to provide affordable, clean, renewable and carbon-free electricity to rural Oregonians. The lower Snake River dams, part of the system, generates enough low-cost energy annually to serve over 800,000 Northwest homes. Federal agencies estimated removing these dams would raise rural electricity rates by 50% due to costly replacement power impacting more than 500,000 Oregonians served by electric cooperatives. Beyond impacting families, higher electricity rates will deter job creation in rural communities. We already face numerous obstacles to private investment; we don’t need more.
The electricity produced at the lower Snake River dams is an essential renewable and carbon-free resource available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. It has other benefits too. Key to combating climate change, hydroelectricity can support other intermittent renewables such as solar and wind. When the sun isn’t shining and the wind stops blowing, hydro facilities can reliably and immediately generate electricity. To match the generation output of the lower Snake River dams with solar would require panels covering 47 square miles. Not a viable solution in the Pacific Northwest, nor environmentally friendly.
Natural gas generation could serve as an alternative resource to replace the lost electricity, but it counters the prevailing political winds. Switching from hydroelectricity to natural gas would increase the region’s carbon emission by 3.3 million metric tons annually, equivalent to adding 712,944 additional vehicles on our roads, undermining Gov. Kate Brown’s desire for a 100% clean energy state.
Whether you like it or not, Central Oregon continues to experience unprecedented growth, and we must be prepared to meet the increased energy demand while balancing our region’s economic and environmental interests.
Finding long-term solutions to restore a healthy salmon population can happen while ensuring continued access to clean, affordable, dependable energy sources. Leaving the courts to decide the outcome will only create division and generate more lawsuits.
We urge Gov. Kate Brown to stop pursuing her lawsuit and return to the negotiating table. With strong leadership, stakeholders working together can find long-term solutions to help Oregon move forward, not backward.