Citing its important role in irrigation, navigation, recreation and energy production, the Grays Harbor PUD has submitted its comments on the Columbia River System Operations Environmental Impact Statement to the Bureau of Reclamation, Army Corps of Engineers and the Bonneville Power Administration. Authored by those three agencies at the end of February, the EIS supports the Lower Snake River Dams and recommends additional water spill over the dams and increased mitigation efforts to assist salmon run recovery.
“This is an important moment in the history of the Columbia River, the energy industry and our state. It’s a privilege to be able to tell the story of how the intersection of those three areas impacts our customers, our county and our utility,” said General Manager Dave Ward.
In the comments submitted on Monday, the PUD states that “…the preferred alternative suggested in the draft EIS of increased spill and additional mitigation efforts designed to help (salmon) fry reach open waters is an acceptable method, but needs to be monitored closely to verify fry survival improvement and not create more harm.”
While the increase of spill over the dams may mean an increase in energy costs for the utility, the PUD points out that the increase is far less than the billions of dollars which would be needed to remove existing hydroelectric dams and replace them with more expensive and less reliable energy sources, which was an alternative considered but not supported in the EIS. In the PUD comments, the utility urges continued support for resources that generate clean, reliable and affordable energy: “In Grays Harbor, many PUD customers are already struggling to get by with existing costs from the current infrastructure. To increase the burden by asking them to help foot the bill for new technologies that lack the affordability and reliability that have made hydropower the dominant power resource in the region for nearly a century is an expense many, quite literally, cannot afford.”
The PUD comments also point out the irony in the fact that the elimination of hydropower facilities on the Lower Snake River would be in direct contrast to the Clean Energy Transformation Act passed in 2019 which supported the hydroelectric system: “With a goal of 100% clean energy by 2045, the loss of the clean, emission free energy produced by the dams would deal that goal a severe blow and perhaps force the state to seek energy on the market from emitting resources, thereby working against legislation brought about by cooperation and compromise.”
The value of the hydroelectric facilities on the Columbia and Snake Rivers to their surrounding communities is also supported in the PUD comments which state that the ”economies of these areas depend on the dams in the form of millions of dollars” and “…any actions taken towards their removal would negatively impact Washington and the Pacific Northwest.”
The public comment period on the draft EIS closes tonight, at which point the three governing agencies will compile a final Environmental Impact Statement to be released later this year.