PUD board talks about dams and legislation

Submitted by sheilac on Mon, 06/03/2019 - 11:26

At a May 28 meeting, Okanogan County PUD commissioners considered a resolution supporting the four Lower Snake River Dams, which are the targets of studies regarding their benefits and the impacts of removing them.

According to Resolution 1687, the Okanogan PUD receives 55% of its power from the Federal Columbia River Power System, of which the four dams in question are a part. They are four of 10 dams that keep the federal power system operating smoothly through automatic generation control.

Hydropower provides 70% of Washington’s renewable, carbon-free electricity. The entire Pacific Northwest’s electricity is 60% hydropower, keeping the region at nearly half the carbon emissions of other parts of the country.

Hydroelectric dams also provide electricity at a lower cost than most generation, provide irrigation for farmland, provide flood control, enable river navigation and recreation, and other benefits.

In recent studies, fish runs have improved dramatically with $17 billion in total spending on Bonneville Power Administration dams (including the four Lower Snake River dams). Now, an average of 97 percent of young salmon successfully make it past the dams. And more projects are yet to come to improve fish passage and habitat.

However, there are movements to have the four Lower Snake River dams removed. Governor Jay Inslee’s Southern Resident Orca Task Force recommends a study on the impacts of removing the dams, although there is already a federal study several years underway, the resolution states.

“The District supports the continued operations of the four Lower Snake River dams for the carbon-free, renewable, reliable, low-cost energy they provide making them an important component of a clean energy future,” the resolution says.

The commissioners approved a first reading of the resolution, and will revisit it at their June 10 meeting.

In other business, the board:

• Heard an update from legislative consultant Jim Rowland, who wrapped up the session that ended April 28. Among the discussion:

   o The state approved its two-year operating budget, a $52 billion spending plan. A real estate excise tax and a B&O tax were imposed, but not a capital gains tax.

   o Wildfire was a big topic, which resulted in a work group to deal with liability issues, policies, prevention, etc. General Manager Steve Taylor has volunteered to be part of the work group. A bill to fund wildfire suppression and prevention was not passed, which would have increased insurance premiums by 2% to raise the funds.

   o The 100% Clean Energy bill (5116) passed to require non-carbon producing energy by 2045. Okanogan PUD is in compliance now, and will be able to meet the standards, according to Rowland.

   o Net metering has changed from allowing a minimum of half a percent of our total load to 4% for utilities.

   o Utilities can build vehicle charging stations under the electrification of transportation legislation.

   o Broadband-related efforts created a statewide broadband office to expand access, especially to unserved and underserved areas. The Public Works Board will now have a grant and loan program to serve this effort.

   o Through 1380, it is now a Class 3 felony to assault a utility worker while they are performing their duties.

• Approved by a 2-1 vote (Commissioner Scott Vejraska voting no) Resolution 1686 adjusting the compensation for General Manager Steve Taylor after his annual review this May. His salary is now set at $199,800.

• Heard updates from Operations Manager Randy Bird about the crews’ part of multiple designed and engineered projects that are underway, including replacing 40-plus-year-old underground lines in the Omak area, and some upgrades to other equipment. He also reported that one of their job sites received a surprise audit from Labor & Industries and passed the inspection with no violations.