Who pays the price for dam removal?
The recent flood closure of Interstate 5 along our most vital transportation artery between Portland and Seattle provided a startling dose of reality. What if authorities chose to permanently remove the water-damaged portion of I-5 without offering up a proven alternative route?
As ridiculous as that sounds, that's exactly what hundreds of thousands of Pacific Power customers face as various special interests clamor for attention in southern Oregon, advocating an abrupt end to renewable hydropower along the Klamath River.
Setting aside the fact that hydropower is one of the most abundant sources of renewable energy we have on our planet and its historic role as a crucial low-cost economic catalyst for the Northwest, we first need to ask ourselves: What is the proven alternative and who will pay the price?
Scientists can't agree on an answer to the first part, but they do agree on the need to use high-quality science to guide critical policy decisions. They admit that at this time there is a distinct shortage of scientific analysis of the consequences of removing hydropower dams along the Klamath River. Lacking that scientific knowledge, predicting the full economic impact is pure guesswork.
This isn't a debate of people vs. fish. Reasonable science and experience proves that people and fish can coexist, even on the Klamath. However, in the larger debate about the future of the Klamath River system, Pacific Power must speak on behalf of its hundreds of thousands of customers -- home and business owners, schools and seniors, farmers and families.
When interest groups call for tearing out the Klamath dams without regard to local environmental impacts, Pacific Power will speak up for its customers and affected communities. When settlement parties file billion-dollar lawsuits outside of the negotiations, constructive conversation gets understandably stifled. And when special interests demand that all costs and future liabilities be borne by ratepayers, we have to say "no."
PacifiCorp initiated the settlement process with all the key stakeholders in the region to balance multiple interests and find solutions to very complicated issues on a highly complex water system. Years later, one simple truth remains: Our customers must have a voice in this decision-making process.
PacifiCorp and our parent company are among the most aggressive renewable- and wind-energy developers in the nation. We believe in renewable energy; we're committed to it. These renewable and carbon-free resources are a key part of that commitment.
Finding agreement on the multitude of nonpower issues in the Klamath Basin is better for all concerned, but there is a steep price to pay for meeting everyone's agenda. Special interests can't be allowed to hijack the hydro license settlement process for their own more diverse agendas, or write a blank check and force our customers to cover it.
If appropriate governmental entities, based on careful, complete science and good public policy, ultimately dictate removal of the Klamath dams rather than proscribing fish passage structures or other alternatives, they also must deal with the consequent financial and risk elements. Our customers should not literally pay the price. That reality must be part of any discussion and settlement agreement.
Pat Reiten is president of Pacific Power. Pacific Power and PacifiCorp Energy are part of PacifiCorp, which is owned by MidAmerican Energy Holdings Co.