A perspective from Oregon’s mid-Willamette Valley

Klamath dams: What was left out

Written April 8th, 2016 by Hasso Hering
Two governors and others pose with salmon steaks in this shot provided by the U.S. Interior Department.

Two governors and others pose with salmon steaks in this shot provided by the U.S. Interior Department.

There were some big holes in the news coverage of the new agreements to tear out four dams on the Klamath River. One was what we’re paying for this. And it was curious that for once nobody worried about carbon, the bogeyman of our age.

Governors Brown of Oregon and California (Kate and Jerry), U.S. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, the president of Pacific Power and various other luminaries signed the deal in a ceremony on Yurok tribal land near the mouth of the Klamath on Wednesday. It restates the goal of previous agreements – to raze those dams and restore the natural river – but seeks to mostly bypass Congress, which refused to go along before.

None of the stories I saw mentioned that Pacific Power customers are already being charged for part of the cost of taking the dams out. It amounts to only pennies on our monthly bills, but the goal is to collect $200 million from Pacific customers by 2020, the target date for dam removal. Some $184 million is coming from Oregon ratepayers, and the other $16 million from those in California. (As of Feb. 29, Michael Dougherty of the Oregon PUC told me Friday, Oregon had collected $103,165,607.64 toward its goal.)

Customers are routinely charged for part of the cost of facilities supplying them with electricity. But why are we being charged for a process that does away with a generating source that will then have to be replaced by a more expensive one?

The hydroelectric dams on the Klamath are capable pf generating 169 megawatts of what Pacific properly calls low-cost, emission-free energy. PacifiCorp owns the dams, but under environmental pressure, regulators refused to relicense them without very expensive add-ons that allow salmon to struggle upstream. Pacific determined years ago that giving up the dams would be less expensive than trying to get them licensed for another 50 years.

California taxpayers, by the way, are stuck for another $250 million toward removing the dams. That amount was included in a much bigger water-related bond issue approved last year.

How come no mention of carbon emissions? Imagine the vast amounts of fossil fuel expended when heavy machinery is deployed to dismantle those structures, from Iron Gate in California from Copco 1 and 2 upstream in Oregon and then J.C. Boyle? And this to get rid of structures that on average generate 716 gigawatt-hours of carbon-free electricity a year. It’s only a tiny portion of Pacific’s capacity, but it’s still enough to power about 70,000 homes.

Government officials and numerous environmental lobbying groups say once the dams are gone – along with 20 recreation sites and boat ramps on the reservoirs — salmon will once again thrive on the Klamath. Maybe. Most of the river water comes from shallow Upper Klamath Lake, which the U.S. Geological Survey says was eutrophic and prone to algae blooms even before European settlement and has since become even more so. Not the best water for salmon, one would think.

Reports of the new Klamath agreement implied it would provide more water. Only nature can do that. Flows in the Klamath have been regulated by the Bureau of Reclamation to, in that order, benefit fish and wildlife, meet irrigation needs and provide for flood control. Electricity is generated from what’s left over. So the dams had nothing to do with low water in the Klamath River.

At the signing ceremony, the Yurok tribal chairman said, “What’s sacred needs to be kept sacred… The path that we’re taking is a sacred path.”

We’re getting rid of these dams, it appears, for corporate, political, ideological and even religious or spiritual reasons. Keep that in mind when you consider the bill. (hh)

11 responses to “Klamath dams: What was left out”

  1. tom cordier says:

    I don’t know what to say. It is all nonsense–upside-down thinking. Could be called inverted thinking. Of course no mention of removal costs or replacement costs. That is an example of the media not doing any real investigative reporting. Another example: ADH refuses to report that GAPS terminated a position (a person) charged with protecting school buildings from fire in 2012–And did not reassign any of those duties to anyone. So when trash and dumpster were stored under the building overhangs (soffits)
    a fire intentionally set by an arsonist burned the whole SAHS down to the ground. The school administration failed to exercise prudent oversight of taxpayer assets,
    No citation was ever issued for the fire code violation and no one has been held accountable in any way–the ADH will not even report it. Same as the unreported dam back story.

    • centrist says:

      It’s a reach to connect the school cafeteria fire to a dam removal story.

    • Dan Freeman says:

      I agree with your up-side-down thinking because apparently are society has lost its ability to reason. The obvious advantages for building the dams are to moderate water flows, irrigate crops, to control flooding and store water for the dry season.

      But these dams produce 169 mega-watts of emission free powers and you asked how much will it cost to replace them. Well, the dams will not be replaced anytime soon and the power will be purchased on the open market. This means generating it from natural gas or coal (at least for now).

      So how much natural gas is needed and how much will it cost to generate? The answer is approximately 1,400 mmbtu/hr or about 12 million mmbtu/yr. If gas remains at its historic low of $3/mmbtu the gas will cost $4,200/hr or about $37 million/yr. The electricity will need to be transported over long distances and there are overhead costs to maintain these plants.

      If you are concerned about carbon emissions the numbers look like this. A modern natural gas power plant will emit around 85 tons/hr or about 740,220 tons/yr to generate the 169 mega-watts. If the power comes from coal the emissions are basically doubled – about 169 tons/hr or about 1.5 million tons/yr.

      The lowest cost alternative is to produce the power is from wind. A wind turbine costs approximately $1 million per mega-watt of peak generating output. But in Oregon our wind turbines only produce approximately 35% of the design output because the wind does not blow all the time. This means somebody will need to buy approximately 480 mega-watts of wind turbines with a price tag around a half a billion dollars. If the wind turbines are built, we will still need 169 mega-watts of conventional power generating equipment to be on stand-by to generate this power when the wind stop blowing.

      I apologize for the long answer but the cost of destroying the dams is staggering and the benefits are questionable. So it is not surprising that we don’t see any economic impact statements.

  2. H. R. Richner says:

    When federal regulators seek and find ways to bypass Congress we arrive at the Fascist state. The innocent salmon is fast becoming the icon imitating the swastika. We already have numerous, very costly regulations protecting it. Do we now need such to promote more salmon? Perhaps, we could start digging new rivers for them next.

  3. Jim Engel says:

    How about extending our sea borders out a few more hundred miles so WE can keep our salmon rearing areas??. And NOT let foreign fishery ships in. JE

  4. centrist says:

    A recollection from my pre-retirement job — these dams are small producers and the income likely is close to the breakeven point when maintenance of transmission system, transformers, switchgear, etc is included. Pacific Power really didn’t want them, but couldn’t walk away or demo them because they couldn’t bill the ratepayer. The fish are likely the diversion that got enough buyin to pull the deal off

  5. tom cordier says:

    To Centrist–not a reach at all–issue is/was: only a part of the story gets told—the one a certain group wants told and the rest of the story is not told. Both examples illustrate the point.

  6. Bob Woods says:

    “We’re getting rid of these dams, it appears, for corporate, political, ideological and even religious or spiritual reasons. Keep that in mind when you consider the bill.”

    You left out “environmental”, “economic” and “rational”

    All the players came together, told the Fed’s “we’ll settle it ourselves” and agreed to compromise to seek to solve the various problems of a diverse group of stakeholders.

    That’s what had always been called “the American way.”

    And you conservatives just hate it. That’s why conservationism has dug it’s own grave.


    • George Pugh says:

      I think not “All the players came together.” There are a number of agriculture interests that are losing essential water and got Rep. Walden to dig in his heels. This is an end run with “progressive” blocking.

  7. hj.anony says:

    Surely you meant that headstone will read “Conservatism”.

    Conservation, on the other hand, is rather important. Until we can get off this rock and to another nice, goldilocks plant. Conservatives may hate conservation as well. Save that for another discussion perhaps.


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