More About The Columbia-Snake River Salmon Recovery Program (BiOp)

Dear Lane Electric Community:

Lane Electric buys your power wholesale from the Bonneville Power Administration (BPA) and that power comes almost entirely from the federal Columbia River hydropower dams. About 33% of that wholesale power cost goes to mitigate the dams’ construction and operation impacts on fish and wildlife. Said another way: Your electric bill funds clean renewable hydropower as well as Columbia-Snake River salmon recovery. Pretty cool!

I want to share with you a recent court decision that will impact the balance between Columbia River hydropower cost and Columbia-Snake River salmon recovery.

In May an Oregon federal trial judge in Portland ruled that the Columbia-Snake River salmon recovery program—called a biological opinion (BiOp)—is not trending towards recovery despite record salmon runs last year. This ruling is a serious blow to the region’s successful and collaborative efforts to restore salmon runs in the Columbia Basin. The BiOp had the review of, and blessing by, top federal scientists including Oregon State University Professor Jane Lubchenco during her tenure as Administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Dr. Lubchenco led the Administration’s review of the BiOp shortly after taking office. She later announced that she stood behind the BiOp one hundred percent. Nevertheless, the judge disagreed.

A significant issue in the lawsuit was whether “breaching, bypassing, or removing one or more of the Snake River dams” could recover salmon better. The four Snake River dams produce over 1,000 average megawatts of power each year—nearly four times more power than our neighbor EWEB needs. While the BiOp was not required to consider the trade-off of hydropower for salmon recovery, the judge ruled that the underlying environmental impact statement should have analyzed that possibility.

Opinions differ about the value of the four lower Snake River dams: Ice Harbor, Lower Monumental, Little Goose, and Lower Granite. To those favoring dam removal, Pacific Northwest solar power and energy efficiency programs should cost effectively replace the dams’ power output. The opposing side points out that substituting power this way would, at a minimum, cause an over 15% increase in BPA wholesale power rates. You would see that impact on your electric bill.

Lane Electric wants both continued salmon recovery and affordable power. Breaching the Snake River dams is a complex concept, and the new BiOp should follow the best science on how to most effectively recover Columbia-Snake River salmon.

Unfortunately, cost pressures like salmon spending have driven BPA’s wholesale power prices up dramatically in recent years–30% over the last six years. Salmon recovery costs are a significant part of those rate increases.

BPA wholesale rates have traditionally been lower than the power market, but that is not necessarily the case today or for the foreseeable future. And while BPA has all of its customers, including Lane Electric, under contract through the year 2028, how many customers will choose BPA after 2028 is much less certain if BPA power continues to cost more than market. Late last year BPA began a public process called “Focus 2028” to stabilize cost pressures and put BPA on a path to be market-competitive. We continue to be actively engaged in that process because it affects your electricity bill. Again, our collective goal is balancing affordable power rates and effective salmon recovery.