Time to overhaul or nix the Columbia River Treaty
Last updated 7/13/2021 at 7:51pm
Power shortages, rolling brownouts and blackouts? In the Pacific Northwest?
One regional utility alone – Avista – had brownouts that affected 15,307 ratepayers last Monday, 6,793 last Tuesday and another 602 last Wednesday. Other utilities, too, had brownouts.
I know we’ve had a day or two of record-setting high temperatures. But that’s not an excuse to shut down power to residents and businesses here in Eastern Washington.
Columbia River basin dams generate roughly 44% of electricity in the entire United States. Our dams provide power to much of the West Coast, including California and British Columbia.
Given that fact alone, there is no reason we are experiencing a so-called “power shortage” here. No reason, that is, except money.
Under the Columbia River Treaty between the U.S. and Canada, our neighbors to the north are “entitled” to about half of the power generation in the river basin in exchange for flood control. And while the treaty puts some limit on how much of the power can be sold down-coast to California, over-development there has caused a substantial drain on our power availability here as energy brokers sell electricity out-of-state and to metropolitan areas hundreds of miles or more away.
It’s time those areas included in the Columbia River basin demand right of first refusal to all power generated here. It’s time our utilities put our ratepayers first. And it also just happens to be time to renegotiate or cancel the Columbia River Treaty with Canada.
The treaty was signed by both countries in 1964. Under agreed upon treaty terms, it can be renegotiated or canceled in 2024.
Our population has grown. Liberal interests have successfully pushed for the shutdown of coal-fired and nuclear power plants. And outsiders have erected unsightly, inefficient and costly wind farms across beautiful Eastern Washington vistas.
Furthermore, fringe groups pushing excessive regulations in the name of salmon have prompted the drawdown of our above-dam reservoirs. Those same groups have effectively blocked development of new reservoirs and dams. Meanwhile, growth has siphoned so much water from our aquifers that there isn’t always enough for existing residential and agricultural needs.
The result has been increasing power prices and service interruptions, excessive water-use restrictions and more.
As a letter penned last month on the treaty by several congressmen to President Joe Biden says, “The status quo is not acceptable to our region and comes at significant economic harm.”
Federal agencies – like Bonneville Power Administration, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation – generally manage the Columbia River basin power generation. Few of those agencies’ decision-makers actually live here in Eastern Washington. They don’t see the issues first-hand. And they don’t personally feel the economic, water and aesthetic impacts.
A study in 2013 recommended that the Columbia River Treaty’s power allocation be revisited and that the “Canadian Entitlement” be reduced. At that time, the recommendation estimated the entitlement was costing ratepayers on our side of the border more than $150 miller per year. Factoring inflation, that amount today is more than $173 million. And that amount doesn’t include increasing power costs for inefficient, government subsidized windmill operations.
It’s time to say enough.
Enough with brownouts, blackouts, windfarms and water-use restrictions here. Enough with giving the power we generate Canada or selling it to California and other areas. Enough with outsiders interfering with building more flood capacity and reservoirs here, while at the same time pushing windfarms on us instead of in their own backyards.
It’s time to renegotiate or cancel the Columbia River Treaty and do what’s necessary to protect Columbia River basin ratepayers, residents and farmers.
– Roger Harnack is the publisher of Free Press Publishing. Email him at [email protected].