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Okanogan PUD playing dangerous game

Letter to the Editor

 


Our Okanogan Public Utility District is playing a dangerous game with our future utility rates, and it could cost all of us a lot of money.

On May 9, the Okanogan PUD, voted unanimously to proceed with re-energizing Enloe Dam. While Enloe Dam has blocked the Similkameen River for a century, it hasn’t produced a spark of electricity for over 50 years.

Efforts to electrify Enloe Dam have been very costly for the Utility. To date, the PUD has spent $13 million dollars pursuing the latest FERC license. An additional $1.3 million dollars is going to be spent on the project this year. PUD estimates suggest building a new Powerhouse at Enloe Dam will require an additional $40-$45 million dollars, plus unspoken interest fees.

Electricity today is cheap, due to the availability of natural gas, wind, and other factors. Power from Enloe Dam will be expensive due to high construction costs. Experts at Rocky Mountain Econometrics estimate that in a best-case scenario, power from Enloe Dam will cost about $110 per megawatt hour, almost triple current wholesale power prices. In other words, instead of getting power at market rates, our electricity rates will rise to cover the cost of this project!

Why is the PUD tumbling us over the dam? Our PUD Commissioners seem to believe they have no choice, because the alternative is dam removal and the PUD is not in the dam removal business. This is contrary to other utilities across the country who have partnered with public and private partners to remove dams. Removing the dam can be accomplished at a reasonable cost. The funding sources are available to remove unproductive dams that harm fisheries, like Enloe Dam. Ratepayers would be off the hook for the cost of dam removal.

The PUD commissioners are fast to point out that nobody has stepped forward to accept ownership, including full liability, for the dam. Here’s what the PUD isn’t telling you: the federal government can take on this dam removal project as it has with other projects in the region like the Elwha Dams. But neither Federal Agencies nor anybody else will consider taking over liability from the PUD until more studies have been done to learn about the level of toxic metals in the sediments behind the dam, where they have accumulated after a century of mining upriver. Preliminary results indicate that toxic levels might not be a big problem, meaning dam removal and remediation could be done affordably. The in-depth study needed to resolve this issue has been designed and is already funded. The PUD is intentionally blocking any further study behind Enloe Dam!

If I wanted to buy your house, but you wouldn’t allow me to first send in a home inspector to uncover and disclose any potential problems, which of us is holding up the deal? The PUD claims nobody is ready to take on the dam removal process, but that’s only true because the PUD itself is trying to hide vital information.

Mark Kubiak

Oroville

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