Wildlife Programs Add
by Associated Press
PORTLAND -- Wildlife programs, mostly salmon recovery, account for about a third of the cost of wholesale electricity from Bonneville Power Administration dams and tack on about $10 to a monthly household bill, the BPA says.
The agency says the government spends more to offset the harm dams do to salmon than it does on running the dams.
But fish or no fish, BPA power is cheaper than most electricity. "Dams don't cost much except for what they do to fish," said Steven Weiss of the Northwest Energy Coalition, a coalition of environmental groups, utilities and others that pushes for renewable energy, and fish and wildlife restoration.
The per-household cost emerged from a court battle last month and is the first time federal agencies have calculated how much private households pay for such programs, said Ed Mosey, a BPA spokesman.
Environmental groups calculate the household cost slightly lower -- about $7 a month, Weiss said.
Costs include less electricity generated when dams are opened to ease the passage of fish.
But the Endangered Species Act requires the dams to be operated that way, and it's wrong to count such a cost against salmon, Weiss said.
The cost per household varies because local utilities draw different amounts of power from the dams. The 31 federal dams, including those on the Columbia and Snake rivers, supply about 40 percent of the Northwest's electricity.
The BPA folds the costs into the power rates. The fish and wildlife tab in fiscal 2007 will total $695 million, the highest ever -- except for 2001, when the power crisis drove power rates sky-high. About $75 million will be reimbursed by credits from the federal treasury.
Operating and maintaining the dams over the same period will cost about $378 million.
The BPA contends power consumers in the region already pay plenty for fish and wildlife.
An issue before U.S. District Judge James A. Redden of Portland has environmental and fisheries groups wanting the government to take further steps for fish, but federal agencies say that would drive costs even higher.
Redden repeatedly has scolded federal officials for skirting the Endangered Species Act and wasting time in the struggle to recover salmon.
The environmental and fisheries groups want more water held in reservoirs this winter and flushed downriver for salmon next year, and more spilled over dams to help salmon avoid turbines next spring and summer.
Both steps mean less water to generate power, especially in winter when prices are highest. That means less income and more spent buying power to make up for reduced power from the dams.
The BPA predicts the steps would drive up its overall costs $347 million if it turns out to be an average water year. Most of it would be charged to ratepayers.
The regional economy also would suffer because it has long hinged on low power rates, BPA officials say.
But the groups pressing for the changes in dam operations say the federal estimates are high. An analysis by Weiss found the water for salmon would cost about $165 million, boosting rates $2 a month for homes that depend entirely on power from the dams and about 44 cents a month for homes in Portland.
A court order forced the government to release more water for salmon this year, but the BPA cut power rates because plentiful spring rain brought extra revenue to offset losses, officials said.
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