Friday, October 21, 2011

Another PACNW Dam Bites the Dust

At the end of the month, PacifiCorp will be punching a hole in a dam that holds back water on the North Salmon River in SW Washington. This dam has been in place for nearly 100 years and generates power for approximately 8000 homes.

The dam is being removed because the company that runs the Condit Dam and uses it for power generation said it would be cheaper to bring it down rather than retrofit the dam for salmon migration. PacifiCorp figures it would cost over $100 million to build the necessary salmon bypasses, but $32 million to knock it down. Obviously, PacifiCorp decided to go the cheaper route.

Behind the dam removal (and the Elwha Dam near Port Townsend, WA and it’s 14.8 megawatts of power generation) the Endangered Species Act, which has designated the salmon as an endangered species. Because of this, all impediments to salmon migration have to be removed or overcame. As pointed out above, it is cheaper to destroy the dam.

According to the link above (and other embedded links), removing the dam will open up the waters above the dam for salmon and steelhead migration. Officials estimate that as many as 3,000 salmon and 500 steelhead will return to the upper reaches of the White Salmon River. I do have some questions about that estimate. I have always been told that salmon migrate to the location where they were hatched. It is a cycle. The salmon head upstream from the oceans to spawn, they lay the eggs, then they dies. Once the little salmon are hatched, they head for the ocean, live there for three years of so, then return to their birth place to begin the cycle anew. If salmon haven’t been upstream of the dam for 100 years, how is the cycle going to renew? I must be missing something, plus I am not a fish biologist.

Another concern with this are the new regulations coming from the Obama Environmental Protection Agency have targeted the Boardman, OR coal-fired plant in eastern Oregon for closure. After this dam is breached, we lose 14.7 megawatts (MW) that heats and lights in 8,000 homes. But this pales in comparison to the 550 MW that will be lost when the Boardman plant closes is 2020. Boardman generates enough power to heat and light approximately 300,000 homes (15% of Portland Gas and Electric’s (PG&E) capacity).

Consider this: at full capacity a 1MW wind turbine needs one-quarter of an acre or four per acre. Typically, wind turbines operate at about 15% of full capacity so in reality to generate 1MW there would have to be a little more than six turbines to generate this 1MW. To replace the Condit dam on the White Salmon River, which generates 14.7MW’s, PG&E would have to build 88 wind turbines, covering 22 acres. Taking this even further, to replace the Boardman plant, PG&E would have to build nearly 3,330 wind turbines. This would cover about 825 acres. To make you think even more, imagine where these wind turbines will be placed. They won’t be out of sight. They have to be built in exposed locations such as ridgelines or near the opening of canyons that funnel the wind.

In summation, we have the Endangered Species Act forcing dam owners and power companies to either fund fish bypasses or knocking over their dams. Couple this with emerging rules from the EPA which are going to govern air pollution rules which is going to force the closure of a coal-fired plant that supplies 15% of the power needs in the region. To replace this lost capacity hundreds, if not thousands of wind turbines will have to be built.

Keep in mind all this is being done because of a fish. And also keep in mind there are no guarantees the fish will return. I really don’t think the fish biologists really know, I think they are speculating, although they are MUCH more educated in this area than I am. I will not argue with them other than to point out their theory has not yet been proven (at least as far as I can find out).

Then you have the Clean Air Act, which is allowing the EPA (via a decision from a progressive friendly judge) to regulate a naturally occurring gas (CO2) to the point where coal-fired plants are going to be forced to either reduce their CO2 outputs 80% by spending a half of a billion dollars for each plant or to close entirely. As pointed out, when Boardman closes, PG&E will lose 15% of its power generation capabilities. On a national scale, power generation capabilities could be reduced as much as 25%. That is a staggering amount. There is already speculation that many areas of the US will experience rolling blackouts and rate increases more than 30%.
Wow, rolling black outs AND a rate increase. I wonder if this was the hope and change everyone voted for.


  1. Why don't these electricity generators grow some cajones and tell the government to go to he**? We cannot do it as we do not "own" these facilities. The electric companies need to stand up to the government and then we the people need to back them up with firepower if necessary.

  2. ooow yuck. The code I just had to enter was "zosters" as in herpes......