Tearing out Pacificorp's dams on the Klamath River would be thriftier than keeping the hydropower project running for the next 30 years, a new state and federal study has concluded.

The analysis comes as settlement talks have intensified while federal regulators consider issuing a new 30- to 50-year license for the dams, and may help grease the skids toward a deal to decommission the project.

It would be a far better arrangement for Pacificorp's rate-payers to build power plants to replace the more than 150 megawatts the project generates, the study reads, not to mention it being a boon to salmon and water quality in the struggling river.

Under the most expensive scenarios to replace that power -- which serves about 70,000 people per year -- it would only cost an additional $14 million to decommission the dams. But 16 out off 18 scenarios examined show that it would be $28 million to $285 million less expensive to get rid of the dams and build power plants.

Prepared by the California Energy Commission and the U.S. Department of the Interior, the report considers the likely costs of having to modify the dams to allow salmon to reach spawning grounds cut off for decades. It also includes costs of meeting water quality regulations, and of continuing to fund hatchery operations to bolster salmon runs.

”A critical decision for Pacificorp, regulatory agencies, Indian tribes and stakeholders is whether to invest in modifications to the Klamath hydroelectric project facilities and modify its operations in order to allow for full upstream and downstream salmonid migration,” the report reads, “or to decommission the dams and powerhouses and restore the aquatic habitat.”

Pacificorp, which hadn't yet reviewed the report, was less than enthusiastic about its conclusions. Company spokesman Dave Kvamme said that the project is a low-cost facility important to its larger regional system.

But he said the company would be willing to discuss the report in light of the settlement talks occurring between conservation groups, tribes and government representatives.

”We still think that a negotiated outcome outside the licensing process where people compromise is by far the better approach to this problem,” Kvamme said.

Pacificorp has proposed trapping and trucking salmon above the dams, and has altered that proposal some in recent filings with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. It contends that's a more reasonable and economically feasible approach than building fish ladders, like federal fisheries agencies have demanded.

Conservation groups welcomed the joint study.

”It's now official,” said Steve Rothert with the group American Rivers, “the Klamath hydro project is an economic loser.”

Humboldt County Supervisor Jill Geist, who has been a part of the settlement talks, said the report is crucial to leveraging a settlement. Money that could be used toward decommissioning of the dams was approved as part of a bond measure passed by California voters last month. Geist said groups have had productive conversations lately that could produce an offer to Pacificorp for the dams by mid-month.