BPA corrects public misinformation

From Bonneville Power Administration

There are a number of facts and figures that are being misinterpreted during the public comment period for the Columbia River Draft Operations Environmental Impact Statement (EIS).  Information correcting the record on those issues from the Bonneville Power Authority (BPA) is included below. The executive summary for the draft EIS can be found at this link.

  1. BPA sells power at a loss or BPA sells power for less than it costs to produce. BPA sells power to consumer-owned electric utilities PUDs, municipal utilities and utility cooperatives at a set wholesale price. If we have surplus electricity, we sell it on the spot market. Unfortunately, this market has been depressed for the past several years, which has negatively impacted BPA’s secondary revenues. We rarely get less money than it costs to produce.
  2. The Snake River dams account for 4 percent of the region’s power. True, but misleading. Not all of the utilities in the Northwest purchase power from those dams. The electricity generated by the Snake River dams is consumed predominately by consumer-owned utilities, many of which are in rural communities, and accounts for a little more than 10 percent of the electricity BPA sells to them. The cost of replacing the power from the dams would hit them in a disproportionate manner. Removing the Snake River dams and replacing them with natural gas generation would increase the rates of PUDs, municipal electric utilities and electric cooperatives by 8.2 to 9.6 percent. If those dams were replaced by a combination of renewables, battery storage and other noncarbon measures, which may be more likely given current state renewable portfolio standards and other carbon legislative proposals, it is projected to increase those rates by 9.5 to 19.3 percent. See pages 25 and 26 of the CRSO draft EIS executive summary.
  3. The Snake River dams cannot produce 2,000 MW of peaking capacity.  The lower Snake River projects provide more than 2,000 MW of sustained peaking capabilities during the winter and a quarter of the federal power system’s current reserves holding capability. The dams play an important role in maintaining reliability, and their flexibility and dispatchability are valuable components of the Columbia River System (see page 25 of the CRSO draft EIS executive summary). This is important because the Northwest is still a winter-peaking region, meaning its highest consumption of electricity is during the winter, not the summer. Between October 2009 and March 2018, there were 8,600 operational hours that the lower Snake River Dams provided more than 2,000 MW of electricity.
  4. BPA is becoming financially insolvent. By trimming $66 million of costs planned for the current two-year rate period, BPA held rates flat for the first time in more than a decade. Considering that between 2008 and 2018 BPA wholesale Power rates increased on average about 3.6 percent per year, this clearly demonstrates the financial discipline to bend the cost curve and provide low-cost, carbon-free hydropower to our public power utility customers across the Northwest. In addition, all three U.S. credit ratings agencies consider BPA to have high, investment-grade credit. A major contributing factor to these ratings is our long-term contracts with our preference customers, the public and peoples’ utility districts, municipal electric utilities and electric cooperatives in the Pacific Northwest.
  5. The Snake River dams are expensive and near the end of their life. Major powertrain replacements for the Snake River dam hydroelectric assets are not currently forecasted to occur within our 20-year system asset plan. Long-term planning analyses that calculate the optimal economic time to replace equipment based on current and expected equipment health, probability of failure and outage consequence, point to the late 2030s as the earliest replacement dates. In fact, most of the optimal replacement dates are spread between the 2040s and 2060s for the lower Snake River dams for turbine and generator replacements. The most recent work done at Ice Harbor Dam includes an already installed improved fish passage turbine with another currently being installed and another on the way, which will further modernize and improve those hydroelectric components.

Growers are encouraged to submit comments on the draft EIS, either online or by mail. The deadline for submitting comments is April 13, 2020.