Groups say Idaho Power Co.
by Eric Barker
Company can afford improvements, according to coalition's arguments
Fish advocates say Idaho Power Co. can and should do more to help salmon and steelhead.
The Nez Perce Tribe and the environmental groups American Rivers and Idaho Rivers United released a study Thursday that says the company can afford to install fish passage equipment at its three dams in Hells Canyon and also install equipment to control water temperatures below the dams.
The fish friendly fixes that would cost tens of millions of dollars over several years would not significantly increase the power bills of the company's customers, according to the economic analysis conducted by Jon H. Goldstein of GTBEconomics of Portland, Ore.
"If they can afford to pay for fish passage and a temperature control structure with their profits and without significant increases to their ratepayers, why aren't they?" asked Greg Haller, an employee of the Nez Perce Tribe's Water Resources Department at Lapwai. "This is Idaho Power's chance to show they are good stewards of the resource."
The company is in the process of renewing its license to operate the dams. The tribe and environmentalists want the company to add a fish passage system at the dams and install a temperature control device before it is issued a new federal license. The current 50-year license is set to expire next year.
When the dams were completed in 1955 they permanently prevented salmon and steelhead from reaching spawning grounds up stream of Hells Canyon. The company was required to have a fish passage system but the system did not work and the company built hatcheries below the Hells Canyon dams instead.
A spokesman for the company dismissed the need for fish passage at the dams. He said water quality and habitat degradation above the dams prevents successful reintroduction of salmon.
"We don't believe there is adequate habitat upstream of the Hells Canyon Complex to support reintroduction at this time," said Dennis Lopez at Boise. "Our focus has been downstream of Hells Canyon Dam. We believe there is plentiful habitat there."
Haller said water quality and habitat above the dams is improving and will continue to improve during the 30-year life of the license the company is seeking.
"It's not a static system," he said.
The company says habitat below the dams is in good shape and the number of salmon spawning there is growing.
According to the tribe and environmental groups, those fish are harmed by cold water released from the company's reservoirs in the spring and warm water released in the summer. Because of its depth, water behind the dams take a long time to warm in the spring. When that water is released, it makes it more difficult for emerging salmon to grow, according to the tribe.
The problem is reversed in the summer when the slack water warms to temperatures harmful to salmon.
Installing a temperature control structure would allow the company to release warm water close to the surface in the spring when young fish need it to grow. In the summer the structure would allow cold water from deep in the reservoir to be released.
Company spokesman Lopez blamed warm water problems that harm fish during their migration to the ocean on the four U.S. Army Corps of Engineer dams on the lower Snake River in Lewiston. He also called temperature control structures unproved technology.
"We really question whether our customers should pay for technology that may not mitigate for problems that are not our responsibility -- that are more beneficial to downstream projects and not our own project."
The study found the company made an average profit of $101 million per year from 1999 to 2002. Of that, it paid about $75 million per year in dividends and held $26 million as earnings. In its application for a new operating license, Idaho Power has proposed to pay $12.5 million each year to mitigate for harm its dams cause to fish and wildlife habitat.
Because money spent on mitigation is tax deductible, the study found the company could pay for the fish passage and temperature control structures without raising power rates or reducing the dividends it pays to stockholders.
"If (Idaho Power) continues to perform financially as it has in the recent past, it could incur annual mitigation costs up to $43.26 million before it had to raise rates or reduce stockholder compensation," the report says.
If the company did not want to reduce the earnings it holds, it could pay for the measures by raising customer rates by one-tenth of a cent per kilowatt hour. That would increase the power bill of the average residential customer between 27 cents and $1.12, according to the study.
The study can be viewed at http://www.restorehellscanyon.org/economics.asp
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