Comment: Don’t fall for TV ads’ climate case for Snake dams

Alternatives to the dams’ power are ready now and their removal would aid the recovery of salmon.

By Marc Sullivan / For The Herald

Desperate times, they say, call for desperate measures. That seems to be the conclusion drawn by last-ditch defenders of four embattled dams on the lower Snake River in southeastern Washington. A sign of that despration: A recent television and radio ad blitz by Northwest RiverPartners, an advocacy group representing public utilities, that serves up evasions, exaggerations and misinformation.

There’s a growing understanding that, for endangered salmon and steelhead in the Columbia Basin — especially in its largest tributary, the Snake River — the choice is restoration of a free-flowing lower Snake or imminent extinction. RiverPartners’ ads are guilty of evasion for not even mentioning the decades of scientific evidence that supports the need for restoring the river.

Gross exaggeration is a fair description of their charge that replacing the dams’ energy would result in steep electric rate increases. A 2018 study by a well-regarded energy consulting firm, Energy Strategies LLC, found that replacing the dams’ output with a balanced portfolio of demand management, energy efficiency, wind, solar and storage technologies — all of which are available now — would add about $1.25 to consumers’ average monthly energy bill. Sharp declines in the cost of these clean resources since that 2018 study make even that impact likely overstated.

And then there’s the misinformation. “The only way to replace dams would be by burning fossil fuels,” intones one RiverPartners ad. Just plain not true, as the Energy Strategies study demonstrates.

For more recent evidence, look no further than Puget Sound Energy (PSE). In 2021 PSE issued an request for proposals for about 3,200 megawatts of energy and capacity to be available to the utility in 2025. Bids into the proposals for wind, solar and batteries — with zero fossil fuel, mind you — totaled about 18,000 megawatts. The opportunity to replace the services of the lower Snake River dams with clean resources has never been greater.

But it’s the hypocrisy of RiverPartners in posing as champions in the fight against climate change that’s especially shameless.

The Save Our Wild Salmon Coalition recently undertook an historical study of the actions of RiverPartners member organizations in regard to three Washington state initiatives (I-937, I-732 and I-1631) and two key pieces of state legislation (Clean Energy Transformation Act, Climate Commitment Act), each designed to take substantive steps to confront climate change. No RiverPartners member — not one — publicly supported any of these measures. The many who did take a position uniformly opposed, by resolution, press statement or campaign contributions, serious steps to slow, stop and ultimately reverse climate change.

What we’ve been doing for 30 or more years to recover abundant, harvestable populations of salmon and steelhead isn’t working for anyone, or any species. Clinging to a failing status quo through evasion, exaggeration and misinformation, cloaked in hypocrisy, is a desperate — and doomed — position.

Marc Sullivan is Northwest Washington coordinator for the Save Our wild Salmon Coalition. He previously served as director of strategic and power supply planning for Seattle City Light. He lives near Sequim.

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