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Snake River dams: ‘Status quo is not an option’

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Re: “A herculean and worthwhile task before breaking through the dams of Lower Snake River” [June 16, Opinion]:

The Editorial Board is right to say that saving endangered salmon is a “target worth aiming for”. Replacing energy services at the lower Snake River dams can result in affordable, clean energy, while improving the reliability of the entire regional power system.

The Lower Snake River Draft Report estimates costs ranging from $8.3 billion to $18.6 billion to replace power from the Lower Snake River dams. Importantly, this figure is spread over 50 years. On an annual basis, this represents at most a few percentage points of the total cost of regional electricity in the Northwest. The costs of renewable energy technologies are expected to continue to fall, meaning that replacing energy services from dams will be less expensive than current projections.

Renewable energy technology cost modeling from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory shows declining costs for solar, wind, and battery systems through 2030 and beyond. A recent analysis by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory found that current supply chain and inflation issues are unlikely to change this outlook.

Meanwhile, dam operating costs will continue to rise as turbines age and climate change affects power generation. For salmon and other species at risk, the status quo is not an option — how can you put a dollar figure on extinction?

Nancy Hirsh, Seattle, Executive Director, NW Energy Coalition