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River Users Debate Costs of Hydropower Dams

by Rocky Barker
The Idaho Statesman, November 19, 2003

Electric ratepayers and irrigation companies Tuesday urged federal regulators to consider the costs before forcing Idaho Power Co. to reintroduce salmon to the Snake River above its Hells Canyon Dam.

Meanwhile, some fish and river advocates said the only way to restore the health of the Snake River is to remove the three dams that generate enough electricity to light and power Boise.

More than 70 people turned out as the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission held its first of three days of hearings on Idaho Power´s application for a new license to operate the Hells Canyon, Oxbow and Brownlee dams for the next 30 years. Federal agencies, Indian tribes and environmental groups want the commission to consider ordering the company to restore passage through its dams, lost when they were built 45 years ago.

But Duane Williams, a Boise Idaho Power customer, urged the commission to consider that hydropower creates low-cost power and no air pollution.

“We´ve really got a good thing here and we shouldn´t destroy it,” Williams testified Tuesday at the Boise Centre on the Grove. “I don´t want to see any more coal-fired plants than we need.”

Scott Campbell, an attorney for several irrigation districts and canal companies in southern Idaho, ticked off a series of costs his clients and others in the Snake River Basin and its tributaries would face if salmon protected by the Endangered Species Act were reintroduced above Hells Canyon.

They include fish screens, fish ladders on other dams, lost farm income from water supply interruptions, lost commercial development and municipal sewer upgrades to improve water quality. A restoration of salmon to the Boise and Payette rivers, he said, would place limits on floaters.

“We can´t have kayakers and rafters disturbing the redds(salmon nests),” he said.

Yet Bill Latta, president of the Idaho Whitewater Association, said he dreamed of the day wild salmon and steelhead would return to the Boise and Payette rivers.

“We used to have salmon run 200 yards from here,” he said. “The habitat above the dam must be restored.”

Steve Ahrens, president of the Idaho Association of Commerce and Industry, said Idaho Power should not have to pay costs not directly tied to the dam´s impacts. He urged the commission to recognize public benefits of the dams to Idaho´s business development.

“Clean, low cost energy is essential to the future prosperity of Idaho,” Ahrens said.

Reed Burkholder, a Boise piano teacher, said the hydroelectric power from the Hells Canyon complex can be easily and more efficiently replaced by gas turbines. He urged the commission to include in its analysis removal of the dams.

Donavon Bramwell, a Lewisville farmer agreed, pointing out the company could never get a license today to build the dams knowing the impact on salmon runs and the damage to canyon health.

“I would bet the dirtiest coal fire plant of comparable size has done less harm than the Hells Canyon complex,” Bramwell said.

Idaho Rivers United Executive Director Bill Sedivy said Idaho Power needs to restore balance this time.

“Just as the company expects us to pay our monthly power bills on time, we expect the company to pay its bill for using a public resource, Sedivy said.

No matter the outcome, Idaho Power´s 423,000 customers will pay more on electric bills to recover the relicensing costs. In July, Idaho Power submitted its 36,000-page license application to FERC with suggestions on how it would improve operations at Hells Canyon.

Idaho Power´s current 50-year license expires in 2005. FERC staff will write a draft environmental impact statement. The public will be able to comment before a final decision is made.

Rocky Barker
River Users Debate Costs of Hydropower Dams
The Idaho Statesman, November 19, 2003

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