Your feature article “Group demands Enloe Dam Breach” is a misrepresentation of the facts presented at the PUD meeting Nov. 5, 2013. I was fortunate to be one of the ratepayers present, having heard through the grapevine, that Enloe Dam was the $5.4 million dollar 2014 budget item focused on that evening. The PUD did no publicity or advertising for this 6:30 pm public meeting.
During public comment period many intelligent questions were asked and reasoned arguments made by the six or seven individuals, all ratepayers, who took the time to go down to Okanogan and question the decisions of our public utility. We are not members of a specific group though we may share some ideas in common. We made no demands. We asked questions and presented facts. Here are the highlights:
The Similkameen River with its low seasonal flows and small head (50’ drop) is not a sufficient source of hydro-electric power to justify the large construction cost of a new generation power house. Efficient use of Grand Coulee Dam, Chief Joseph and Wells Dam hydro power makes much more sense, today as it did in 1958. We asked “Who wants this project? Do we need this surplus electricity?”
The PUD estimates electric production at Enloe to be 45,000 MWH annually. Wholesale electricity is now $23.50/MWH, down from an all-time high of $66/MWH in 2007. With new lower cost sources of power, gas turbine, solar and wind now adding to the grid supply, prices are expected to remain low into the foreseeable future. Enloe will produce wholesale revenues of 45,000 MWH X $23.5/MWH = $1.057 million annually, far short of the 2007 PUD estimated annual operation costs for power production at Enloe of $2.611 million dollars. Enloe Dam will bleed $1.5 million dollars in red ink annually. For all this expensive engineering, road building, power-lines, concrete and steel, this project won’t even pay the interest let alone principle on the $40-50 million dollars they will need to borrow. We asked “With $38 million dollars of debt already on the books and your rate payers suffering from rapidly rising electric bills, consumption decreasing and with it your revenue, how can you justify these expenses for so little return?”
“PUD ratepayers could be stuck with the bill,” your feature’s subtitle, is a recent PUD argument offered in June 2013, as a reason to build this unwanted, unnecessary and unsustainable project. The PUD claims there is a binding agreement with the BLM requiring our public utility to pay the cost of removing all the 2.4 million cubic yards of sediment behind Enloe and the dam itself, if they don’t build a power plant on the site. In contrast, BLM officials have said they would release the Utility from all liability, if the PUD decides not to build.
The BLM has recommended the Similkameen River be restored to a wild, scenic river. This would take a decade or two, maybe generations, but would include the removal of all accumulated sediments behind Enloe Dam and the Dam itself. This idea has been around since the 1970’s and has a lot of merit. As proposed, those costs would be met by many agencies working in concert, including BLM, EPA, NOAA, National Marine Fisheries, state Department of Ecology, Fish and Wildlife, non-profits, foundations and downstream utilities looking to fund recovery habitat for endangered upper Columbia Steelhead. These are regional responsibilities and would be shared, a far cry from the fearful outcome you echoed. In some cases, the money is already set aside, waiting for worthy projects. The BLM wants to work with the PUD.
We all enjoy the river’s fall over Enloe Dam. It is an amazing, thunderous rush of white water. Behind that structure, runs the ancient river channel with its cut-rock sidewalls, cascades and deep rocky pools upriver of the dam. If dam removal were to happen in the future, we would quickly learn to appreciate this wondrous new look of the river. With local support, the old power house, now slated for demolition, could be saved to serve as an amazing Trail and River interpretive center. All these decades of hard work will mean jobs, full motels and restaurants, new local businesses, happy hikers, tourists and many good years ahead for the economy of the north county, the community of Oroville and our future.