The Biden administration’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) issued a recommendation to breach dams on the Snake River in order to ensure the survival of endangered salmon — which would ultimately worsen the energy crisis and the supply chain crisis.
The move, which could jeopardize power supplies in the Pacific Northwest, was suggested in a Monday draft report from NOAA which suggested that the four lower Snake River dams needed to be breached to shorten travel time for the endangered salmon. The agency also claimed that the move was necessary in order to reduce stress on juvenile fish and reduce encounters with powerhouses.
According to the report, the “earthen portion of each dam would be removed, and a naturalized river channel would be established around the concrete spillway and powerhouse structures.”
However, according to a 2016 fact sheet provided by the Bonneville Power Administration, these Snake River dams provide 3,033 megawatts of capacity to the Pacific Northwest.
The Bonneville Power Administration also reported this month that the cost for replacing these dams would be between $415 million to $860 million per year until 2045, which would add up to a total cost of $19.6 billion, and would increase electricity costs for households by up to 18% over the same period of time. The group noted that the replacement becomes more expensive over time “due to increasingly stringent clean energy standards and electrification-driven load growth.”
Lawmakers in the region, including Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA), has implored President Joe Biden to deny the proposal, pointing out that the White House issued an emergency declaration in June regarding the nation’s grid capacity.
“Today, with the release of these draft reports, one thing is clear: the Biden administration is talking a big game on carbon goals while simultaneously engaging in actions to undermine valuable clean, affordable, and renewable power resources on the Columbia River System, thus compromising energy stability across the region,” the lawmakers said in a statement.
The lawmakers went on to cite data from the University of Washington which shows that salmon returns have actually been increasing since 2019, and urged the Biden administration to consider the possible outcomes of their decision before making a choice that would harm Americans.
“We urge this administration to consider the facts, prioritize transparency, and utilize sound science and input from all tribes, industry groups, and the ratepayers themselves before coming to an outcome in any final report that would be catastrophic to the communities we represent,” the statement continued.
This proposal is especially alarming considering the fact that, last summer, the Pacific Northwest experienced rolling blackouts, which are intentionally initiated in order to preserve capacity in the long term. These blackouts occurred during a historic heatwave, which unfortunately led to roughly a dozen deaths.
According to a reliability assessment from the North American Electric Reliability Corporation earlier this year, much of the U.S. is at a “high risk” or an “elevated risk” of rolling blackouts again this summer. If the White House were to follow the advice of NOAA and breach the dams, this would surely put added strain on the power grid, leaving no choice but to once again induce rolling blackouts which will likely leave more Americans dead.
In June, Rep. Dan Newhouse (R-WA) introduced the Federal Columbia River Power System Certainty Act, which was designed to ensure that the lower Snake River dams are not breached.
“Amidst a national energy and supply chain crisis, it is unconscionable that dam-breaching advocates … repeatedly attempt to force a predetermined, unscientific conclusion that will put our communities who are already struggling at risk,” the congressman said. “In the Pacific Northwest, not only do we depend on this critical infrastructure for clean, renewable, and affordable energy, but transportation for 60% of the nation’s wheat. The Snake River Dams are integral to flood control, navigation, irrigation, agriculture, and recreation in Central Washington and our region cannot afford to lose them.”