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Breaching dams would hurt reliable, low-cost electricity for Tri-Cities, utilities argue

New advanced-technology turbine ready for installation at Ice Harbor Dam on the Snake River

Project manger Kevin Crum with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers shares details about the $58 million turbine replacement project designed to be fish friendlier and more efficient at generating power. Crews will spend about the next 14 months insta
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Project manger Kevin Crum with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers shares details about the $58 million turbine replacement project designed to be fish friendlier and more efficient at generating power. Crews will spend about the next 14 months insta

Leaders of major utilities providing electricity to the Tri-Cities area agree that removing the lower Snake River dams would harm their ability to provide reliable, carbon-free and affordable power.

The Benton and Franklin PUD commissions, the Benton Rural Electric Association Board and the Richland City Council, which has its own electric utility, each recently signed a resolution in support of keeping the hydroelectric dams.

A federal judge has ordered an environmental study to look at removing the dams from Ice Harbor to Lower Granite to help endangered and threatened fish and the state is launching a study to look at the impacts of breaching the dams.

The study was recommended by a state task force looking at ways to protect Washington’s Pacific Coast southern resident orcas, which feed on chinook salmon, from extinction.

Ice Harbor Dam near Burbank is critical to supplying electricity to the local area during periods of high electric demand, they said, quoting the Bonneville Power Administration.

If Ice Harbor Dam were taken down either costly new generation or significant transmission reinforcements would be needed to provide electricity to the Tri-Cities, especially during the high-demand periods of summer, they said.

The local utility leaders claim that anti-dam groups use emotional scare tactics to blame decreases in salmon populations on dams, ignoring predator issues, ocean conditions, pollution and other factors that have greater, far-reaching effects on salmon, they said.

“Since 1978, electric rate payers have spent $17 billion on infrastructure and other fish restoration projects,” said Jeff Hall, president of the Benton Public Utility District Commission. “Those projects have made a real difference, and are evidence that dams and salmon can coexist.”

Roger Wright, the president of the Franklin PUD commission, said that removing the dams would be bad for the local economy and the region’s overall quality of life.

Some of the resolutions that were passed by the utilities pointed out that the state Legislature passed a bill calling for a 100 percent emissions-free power system, while at the same time agreeing to spend $750,000 to study the effects of breaching dams that make wind and solar possible by backing them up with a steady source of electricity.

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