How Economics Is Helping the War on Dams

Mounting maintenance costs and environmental pressures are spelling the end for the dams of the Lower Snake River

For years, conservationists and anglers have been fighting a battle to remove 4 outdated dams on the Lower Snake River. These dams have been known to kill the anadromous fish that try and fail to pass the dam on their annual spawning runs. The Bonneville Power Administration (BPA), who manages the 4 dams, is facing mounting maintenance costs and dropping energy prices.

“The jig is up,” said Daniel Malarkey, a senior fellow at the Sightline Institute, “We had this super-cheap power relative to other resources, and we’ve piled a bunch of extra costs on it.”

The four dams are responsible for generating less than 13% of the total power output of BPA. But recently, with dropping flows and environmental protections put in place to protect endangered species, they are producing much less power than that.

According to E&E News, “the Lower Snake River dams produce less power than BPA sends out of its service area in the region. There are other factors, as well, including BPA’s financial health. The federal power agency is $15 billion in debt, and its electricity rates have climbed 30% since 2008 as the wholesale market has fallen due to growing supplies of wind, solar and natural gas (Greenwire, Sept. 3).”

Conservationists hope that the growing costs, outstanding debt, and lack of economic viability will push the BPA to finally give in and remove the dams. Dam removal would finally free the Lower Snake River so the wild salmon, steelhead and other endangered species can return to their historic numbers.

To read more about the issue and potential dam removals, check out this article by E&E News!

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