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Study: Snake River Dams Could Be Replaced with Renewables

Conservation and fishing groups say four lower Snake River dams are driving salmon to the brink of extinction. (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers)
Conservation and fishing groups say four lower Snake River dams are driving salmon to the brink of extinction. (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers)
April 6, 2018

BOISE, Idaho – A new study finds hydropower from the lower Snake River dams could be replaced with renewable-energy sources, potentially providing a framework for saving the region's salmon.

A major linchpin in the argument against breaching the four dams has been the energy they produce, which amounts to about 4 percent of the Pacific Northwest's electricity. Conservation and fishing groups say the dams are a major impediment to migrating salmon and have pushed them nearly to extinction.

Sean O'Leary is communications director with the Northwest Energy Coalition, which commissioned the study.

"Any discussion of removing the dams really couldn't get past the question of, 'What do we do if the lights go off?' And so, the fact that this study shows categorically that reliability will actually be enhanced with a portfolio of renewable resources takes that issue off the table," says O’Leary.

The study, conducted by Utah-based Energy Strategies, only lays out the minimum requirements for transitioning to renewable power. O'Leary says agencies would be able to optimize resources and create a more efficient and inexpensive plan.

The research concludes that replacing the dams would cost customers a little more than a dollar per month and would not require a new gas-fired coal plant to transition.

Supporters of the dams say agriculture producers in the region rely on them for barging. But O'Leary believes a transition away from the dams could actually help nearby communities.

"That build-out of resources – wind, solar and storage – will require a lot of jobs and a lot of investment in the region that will help, as would removal of the dams,” says O’Leary. “So those are things that will accrue to the benefit of those communities in many cases, as well as the fishing and tourism industries that will grow."

A district court judge rejected the federal government's plan to protect the region's endangered salmon in 2016. The decision requires agencies to devise a new approach, including consideration of breaching the dams, and a draft environmental impact statement is expected by March 2020.

Idaho Congressman Raul Labrador and other regional leaders are pushing to hold a vote on House Bill 3144, which would require action from Congress to remove the dams.

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - ID