Thursday, April 14, 2011

Spill is Good for Both Endangered Salmon and the Wind Power Industry

In its ongoing attempt to reduce water spill levels in the Columbia and Snake Rivers, Bonneville Power Administration (BPA) is now attempting to use salmon as an excuse to shut off wind energy production in the region when flow levels are too high. BPA is claiming legal constraints for salmon and over-generation of wind and hydropower will force the agency to turn off wind power production but keep producing hydropower. Such a policy would undermine renewable energy generation and be harmful to salmon.

While over-generation situations do occur, the supposed legal constraints on BPA are largely self-created and self-imposed. The salmon aren’t forcing BPA to order reduced spill and thus more hydro production at the expense of wind generation; it’s the total dissolved gas (TDG) limits for the Columbia and Snake Rivers. Currently, BPA follows Washington State’s spill standard, which allows a dissolved gas level of 115%. If Washington adopted and federal agencies implemented Oregon’s standard, maximum dissolved gas levels would increase to 120%. This shift could allow more spill and avoid curtailing wind energy. It also would benefit salmon and steelhead by easing their migration past these dams.

BPA recently evaluated how much more wind energy might be available if the dissolved gas standard were increased. It did its analysis in response to SOS calculations of how many TDG exceedences might be avoided in a given month if the Oregon standard were followed. A new analysis from the Fish Passage Center (FPC), which provides current and historic data on salmon and steelhead travel in the Columbia and Snake Rivers, backs up the SOS findings and reveals an opportunity for significantly increasing spill in the Columbia-Snake.

The SOS, BPA, and FPC analyses all lead to the same basic conclusion: adhering to the 120% Oregon standard for TDG is better for salmon and would allow more wind energy on the regional system. Despite these benefits, BPA has decided not to pursue this additional spill, claiming the economic benefits are minimal and not worth the biological risks to salmon from too much TDG in the water. Bonneville ignores the clear science showing that the TDG levels at issue here would not harm migrating salmon.

Instead of science, politics is driving this decision. Politics should not stand in the way of what is good for both salmon and the wind industry. The Northwest Power and Conservation Act requires BPA to protect and restore salmon in the region while supporting renewable energy development to meet our new power needs. Increasing the dissolved gas standard to 120% would accommodate both salmon survival and wind energy production.

We believe it’s time for BPA to stop circumventing its responsibilities to the salmon and renewable energy communities. BPA should act like the federal agency it is and help the region reach our shared goals of healthy salmon populations and a clean energy future, rather than focusing solely on increased hydropower sales.

Salmon protection and survival in the Columbia-Snake Basin are linked with wind power, not in conflict with it. We in the Northwest can have both a truly clean energy future and wild rivers teeming with wild salmon.

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