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Economic and dam related articles

Salmon Lawsuit Worries Utilities

by Christopher Schwarzen, staff reporter
The Seattle Times, December 7, 2005

A federal lawsuit requesting more water for endangered chinook salmon on the Columbia and Snake rivers has local utilities worried about large spikes in next year's energy prices.

The Snohomish County Public Utility District (PUD) abandoned its bid Tuesday to lower customer power rates by 4 percent in 2006, and Tacoma Power and Seattle City Light officials say they're also wary of the outcome.

The National Wildlife Federation (NWF) has asked a federal judge to increase water spillage and flows at a number of dams on the two rivers next spring. The water is needed to aid downstream migration of juvenile salmon, says the environmental nonprofit, which won a similar suit earlier this year for the summer migration.

The Bonneville Power Administration (BPA), which produces electricity at the dams, says such water losses will cost the region 770 average megawatts of energy -- enough electricity to power three-quarters of Seattle for a year.

That equates to $450 million annually in revenue losses, $347 million of which would be passed on to Bonneville's customers.

"This clearly eliminates the possibility of a rate reduction," said PUD general manager Ed Hansen. "We'd have to look next year at a rate increase instead."

Tacoma Power faces a potential increase of $17 million in its costs next year.

Seattle City Light, which reduced rates earlier this year, also could face higher costs.

But NWF officials say Bonneville has cried wolf in the past over water-flow requests. Paula Del Giudice, director of the NWF's Western office, said Bonneville actually has increased revenues and dropped rates by more than 1 percent.

"We're only asking for slight increases this time, based upon positive results [in salmon numbers] from this summer," she said.

"The spring and summer migrations are two different runs." Bonneville and other federal agencies named in the suit have offered an alternative that would result in less power lost and more cost savings while still helping fish.

Christopher Schwarzen, staff reporter
Salmon Lawsuit Worries Utilities
The Seattle Times, December 7, 2005

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