Serving Franklin County, WA

Lower Snake River dams' power hard to replace

Gov. Jay Inslee and Sen. Patty Murray, both Democrats, issued a draft report which estimates that breaching the four lower Snake River dams and replacing their electricity and other benefits would cost between $10 and $27 billion. Meanwhile, the lone Idaho Republican, Congressman Mike Simpson, supporting dam removal---impoundments located in a neighboring state--is willing to pony up $33 billion tax dollars.

That’s a lot of taxpayer money even today when President Biden and Congress toss around trillion dollar spending programs like horseshoes at a church picnic.

It is especially disconcerting when our national debt has surpassed $30.5 trillion meaning every American owes $92,000 if debtors call for repayment. Unfortunately, the cost per taxpayer is now $243,000.

Along with the enormous costs, it would be extremely hard to site industrial-size wind and solar projects---the size required to supplant lower Snake River hydropower.

Wall Street Journal reporter Jim Carlton hit the nail on the head last year when he wrote: “Slated to be the biggest solar plant in the U.S., the Battle Born Solar Project by California-based Arevia Power, would carpet 14 square miles—the equivalent of 7,000 football fields—with more than a million solar panels 10 to 20 feet tall.”

“These large projects are increasingly drawing opposition from environmental activists and local residents who say they are ardent supporters of clean energy. Their objections range from a desire to keep the land unspoiled to protection for endangered species to concerns that their views would no longer be as beautiful,” Carlton added.

For example, the proposed Lund Hill Solar Farm would be the largest in Washington covering 1,800 acres in Klickitat County near the Columbia River Gorge. Most of that is state-owned grazing land managed by Washington’s Dept. of Natural Resources.

The project would cost more than $100 million and generate up to 193 megawatts of intermittent electricity. Using the calculation that one megawatt of solar power supplies 190 homes, Lund Hill would service 37,000 residences.

Surprisingly, in March 2021 the Klickitat County commissions voted 2-1 to put a moratorium on the solar farm permits west of Goldendale where Lund Hill is located.

The Lund Hill proposal led Klickitat citizens to form an opposition group, C.E.A.S.E. (Citizens Educated About Solar Energy), which pickets the Goldendale post office carrying bright yellow signs reading: “Stop Solar Farms” and “Regulate Industrial Solar.”

The same goes for wind farms.

Consider the opposition to the Horse Heaven Hills wind project planned by Scout Clean Energy which would stretch along 24 miles of ridgeline from south of the Tri-Cities in Finley to Benton City. Many of the 244 spinning wind machines would be higher than Seattle’s Space Needle (605 ft.) The heights range from 500 to 671 feet. It is also hung up by contentious permit hearings.

Horse Heaven Hills is a key grape-growing region in Washington and houses the state’s single largest wine making facility. Rep. Mary Dye, R-Pomeroy, believes the state wine industry could be harmed by a change in microclimate caused by the giant turbines as it has happened in Texas.

Solar and wind power must be part of the path toward substantially reducing carbon emissions. However, permitting large industrial size power farms is contentious.

The incomprehensible challenge is how to generate enough greenhouse gas free electricity for our growing demands without nuclear power production and by taking out major hydropower projects such as the four lower Snake River dams.

Inslee, Murray and Simpson would be wise to look at ways to return salmon and steelhead runs upstream of Idaho Power’s Hells Canyon dams which have no fish passage systems before arbitrarily deciding to just tear out the lower Snake River dams?

Don C. Brunell is a business analyst, writer and columnist. He retired as president of the Association of Washington Business, the state’s oldest and largest business organization, and now lives in Vancouver. He can be contacted at [email protected].


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