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Dam Removal Costs - Big Bucks, or Big Bluff?

March 5, 2007

The Bonneville Power Administration is answering its critics with some big numbers for what it would cost to remove four dams from the Lower Snake River in Eastern Washington. BPA says taking the dams down would cost electric customers more than $400 million to replace the power. Conservation and sport fishing advocates say the dams are wreaking havoc on salmon populations, and that they supply only two percent of the region's power. Steve Weiss of the Northwest Energy Coalition says energy conservation could easily make up that difference without the $400 million price tag.

"Put these dams in perspective -- they're quite unreliable, because the water (that) comes down the river depends on the weather. They're pretty small, and you can't count on them. They're not all that essential for the region."

The dams may be lethal to fish because they slow the river down, which increases the water temperature. It may take an Act of Congress to settle this debate -- literally. This month, Washington Congressman Jim McDermott will request federal funding for an impartial study of the dam removal issue.

Weiss points out that the BPA cost estimate would use gas-fired turbines to replace the power from the dams, when simple conservation efforts would suffice.

"I hate to say it, but I think they deliberately tried to come up with a scenario to replace the dams that was almost the most expensive they could come up with. And then they could say, 'Ah-hah! This is gonna cost a fortune,' instead of really, actively looking for the cheapest way to replace them, which is what we tried to do."

The Bonneville Power Administration analyzed the "Revenue Stream Report," which Weiss coauthored. The report is available on the Web site of the group "Save Our Wild Salmon", at BPA's reaction to the report may be found at Click on "Recent News."

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - WA