Everyone agrees: documentary pushing destruction of Snake River dams is wrong

Aug 16, 2019

A new documentary called “Dammed to Extinction” has been released in the hopes of pushing politicians to destroy the Snake River dams. I haven’t seen the movie yet, but if the public statements by the producer are indicative, the film is remarkably inaccurate.

In a story about the movie, the producer Michael Peterson claimed, “If we took those dams out, we would not need to replace the electricity and we would all save money…” This is not correct and is contradicted by the Northwest Power and Conservation Council and even those who advocate dam destruction.

The four Lower Snake River dams provide about seven percent of Washington’s electricity. Removing that electricity generation would be expensive and increase risk to grid stability.

For example, the Northwest Power and Conservation Council testified last year in Olympia that by 2021, the Northwest’s electricity supply will be inadequate. It gets worse in 2023. That testimony assumed the Snake River dams would still be in place. If the dams were removed, the shortage would get worse. The NWPCC analyst confirmed that “without these dams, LOLP [Loss of Load Probability] increases significantly.” He noted that even with the dams in place, “There remains, of course, a certain amount of uncertainty, for example we could have unexpected economic/load growth.”

Not only would we need to replace the electricity, we have to increase current capacity. Destroying the dams would make that problem worse.

Even those who advocate destroying the dams admit the electricity would need to be replaced and would increase costs.

The NW Energy Coalition, which supports destroying the dams, produced a study last year admitting that replacing even part of the electricity from the dams would increase rates. When the study came out, I noted that their cost numbers were actually low. After initially claiming I was wrong, they finally admitted I was correct but said that higher costs were a benefit because they would create more jobs. That is bad economics, but it also demonstrates the claim that people will “save money” is contradicted even by those who agree with Peterson.

Recovering salmon and orca requires that we are honest, factual, and follow the science. Peterson’s claim violates all of those and standards and makes it more difficult to take the steps necessary to promote effective salmon recovery.