Sunday, September 24, 2023

Op-Ed: The importance of Lower Snake River Dams

| June 15, 2023 12:14 PM

As a trusted provider of electricity to the families, small businesses, and agriculture industry in our region, Big Bend Electric Cooperative recognizes the critical role the Lower Snake River Dams play in supporting our economy.

Our role as a utility is not only to continuously keep the lights on, but to ensure that air conditioning functions and hospitals are powered with reliable, affordable electricity during our more regular heat waves. These dams produce an important source of clean energy that are essential for our region. In fact, our cooperative purchases 90% of our electricity from the Bonneville Power Administration with a reliable portion of that coming from the Snake River dams.

The North American Electric Reliability Corp’s 2023 Summer Reliability Assessment released on May 17th stated, Two-thirds of North America faces reliability challenges in the event of widespread heatwaves. It goes on: Areas in the U.S. West are at elevated risk due to area-wide heat events that can drive above-normal demand and strain resources and the transmission network.

We need to heed the warnings and protect the clean generation resources we have, including the dams on the Lower Snake River.

In addition to providing reliable, clean, affordable power, the dams on the lower Snake River also support irrigation for thousands of acres of farmland, ensuring that our farmers can produce crops to feed our communities and beyond. These high-value crops require a solid workforce for harvest, so the loss of the dams doesn’t only impact production but would eliminate the jobs so important to so many.

These dams also facilitate the transportation of agriculture and other goods via barge. This low-emission form of transportation is a vital part of our region's infrastructure, allowing us to move goods efficiently and cost-effectively. Without these dams, we would be forced to rely solely on trucks and trains, which are much more expensive, have a greater impact on our environment, and present safety concerns for our rural communities.

As the Northwest works to meet mandated decarbonization targets, there are going to be tough choices about how to maintain the same resilience and reliability in the face of increasing demand. Maintaining a functioning hydroelectric system should not even be in question as our region retires coal and seeks to lower natural gas use.

Our region relies and depends upon the multi-faceted assets provided by the Lower Snake River Dams which, by the way, include some of the most productive fish passage operations in the nation. Big Bend Electric will continue to support the operation of the Lower Snake River Dams as their continued existence helps keep a vital part of our promise to our members that we will keep the lights on.

Yvette Armstrong

General Manager / CEO

Big Bend Electric Cooperative, Inc.

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