Advocates ask ratepayers to fight relicensing of 4 Klamath dams
They've debated the impact of Klamath River dams on the environment, on Native American culture, on farming communities and coastal fisheries.
Now the coalition of advocates fighting for removal of four dams are hoping to pull PacifiCorp ratepayers into their struggle and force the utility to settle on terms for dam removal.
Advocates want ratepayers to urge the Oregon Public Utility Commission to deny any request from PacifiCorp to pass on relicensing costs for the four dams, which produce about 1 percent to 2 percent of the utility's power.
PacifiCorp is seeking relicensing of the four dams from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. The utility argues that the dams are a source of low cost, clean hydropower.
Advocates of dam removal, meanwhile, say the dams are an environmental and economic disaster, wiping out what was historically one of the West Coast's three largest salmon runs.
To relicense the dams, PacifiCorp would need to make costly improvements for better fish passage and water quality. The Oregon commission would eventually need to approve shifting those costs, estimated at $220 million to $450 million, to customers.
PacifiCorp could instead remove the dams and buy replacement power -- an alternative that dam-removal advocates maintain would be far cheaper.
Last month, the California Energy Commission sent a letter to the Oregon commission urging members to reject any request for cost recovery. Its economic studies indicate that it would cost $114 million less to remove the dams, restore the fisheries and buy replacement power than to install fish ladders and do other environmental mitigation.
PacifiCorp argues that the California commission doesn't have any jurisdiction, though some of the power is generated in California. The company also disputes the conclusions of the commission's economic studies and continues to support relicensing the dams.
While PacifiCorp public pronouncements on the dams are based on their cheap, clean power, relicensing the dams would also offer it the opportunity to make substantial capital investments and earn a substantial return for its shareholders. Critics of the utility maintain that's the only reason the utility is resisting the call for dam removal.
The federal energy commission is slated to deliver a final environmental impact statement sometime this fall.
Craig Tucker, Klamath coordinator with the Karuk Tribe, says he is hopeful that a settlement agreement for dam removal can be reached by year's end.
Such an agreement, however, depends on another set of negotiations with farmers in the Klamath Basin to ensure irrigation interests and that farmers won't bear additional costs when and if salmon are returned to the upper Klamath Basin.
Tucker said that further delays in the negotiations run the risk that election year politics will preclude federal action.
Ted Sickinger: 503-221-8505, firstname.lastname@example.org