the film
Ecology and salmon related articles

Salmon Must Pay in Power Crunch

by Eric Sorensen, Science reporter
Seattle Times, January 12, 2001

Acting BPA Administrator Stephen Wright, left, talks with Stan Berman, program co-chairman, during a conference in Bellevue. In a trade-off of short-term power needs and long-term salmon concerns, the Bonneville Power Authority yesterday ran more water through its system than its salmon-recovery plan recommends.

It was one more complication in a mounting energy problem that experts at a two-day Bellevue conference said has few simple solutions.

If anything, a changing White House, a new Congress, a lack of new power plants and a dearth of snow will keep the power problem around for months to come, said speakers at the conference, Buying and Selling Electric Power in the West.

The BPA's move came on the second day of rolling blackouts in Northern and Central California and after spot-power prices rocketed yesterday morning to $750 a megawatt-hour, far above the $35 to $50 per megawatt-hour that has been typical during this time of year in the past decade.

The BPA markets wholesale power generated by the 29 hydroelectric dams along the Columbia and Snake river systems.

Under a biological opinion the federal government adopted last month, the BPA has limited water flow below Bonneville Dam to less than 130,000 cubic feet per second, saving water for the spring migration of salmon protected under the Endangered Species Act. But the opinion leaves room for exceeding that limit for economic reasons or ensuring a reliable flow of energy, said Stephen Wright, acting BPA administrator and the Bellevue conference's lunchtime speaker yesterday.

In this case, the BPA needs to avoid spending large amounts of money to supplement its power so it will have money left over for other salmon-remediation measures besides water flow, Wright said. The authority spent $50 million to buy power this week and has a reserve of about $500 million.

"If Bonneville doesn't have enough money, then we have difficulty paying for salmon-recovery activities," Wright said.

Speakers at the conference, sponsored by Law Seminars International, suggested a variety of ways to ease the energy crisis.

Washington state alone has several gas-fired power plants approved for construction, but they remain unbuilt because of financial difficulties or other reasons, said Mike Grainey, assistant director of the Oregon office of energy.

Conservation would help, he said. His own office reduced power consumption by 20 percent late last year by reducing overhead lighting and turning off computers. Other efforts that could pay off in a matter of months include tax credits for energy-efficient motors, appliances and lighting, he said.

California Gov. Gray Davis is not helping matters, said Craig Gannett, a lawyer representing utilities and power marketers for Davis Wright Tremaine.

"I can't think of anything he's done right during this crisis," Gannett said. "There are strong terms that I can use to characterize how he's handled himself, but irresponsible is the one I will say in public."

Gannett criticized Davis for stridently calling generators "out-of-state profiteers" and proposing criminal penalties against engineers if they withhold power from the grid.

Gannett also warned that the incoming U.S. energy secretary, Spencer Abraham, knows less about energy "than just about any member" of President-elect George W. Bush's proposed Cabinet.

In addition to a new energy secretary, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has two vacancies on its five-member board, said Doug Smith, the commission's general counsel. And Congress, while talking about energy more now than in the past 20 years, has yet to develop a consensus on how to handle the current crisis, he said.

John Scadding, an economist and former chief of staff to the president of the California Public Utilities Commission, said wholesale rate caps would discourage energy producers from holding on to power to raise prices. But caps would discourage new investment in plants and hurt producers of gas-based power, who have suffered from rising natural gas prices, he said.

Raising retail energy prices will further put customers on notice that energy is expensive, especially during peak periods, Scadding said.

Marilyn Showalter, chairwoman of the Washington state Utilities and Transportation Commission, praised a system in which Puget Sound Energy gives 400,000 of its customers detailed energy-use data showing them when they are using power at the more expensive peak periods.

Eric Sorensen, Science reporter
Salmon Must Pay in Power Crunch
Seattle Times, January 19, 2001

See what you can learn

learn more on topics covered in the film
see the video
read the script
learn the songs
discussion forum
salmon animation