"Spill Charge" Coming to Customer Bills

"Spill Charge" Coming to Customer Bills

by Mason PUD 3 on

July 23, 2018

Cost of Federal Judge's Mandated Spill of Water over Dams to Show Up on PUD 3 Customer Bills in August.

The judge’s demand for trial spilling of extra water for fish comes with $10.2 million price tag for Pacific Northwest electricity customers.

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(SHELTON, WA) – Mason PUD 3 customers will see a line item on their bills as a result of a court-ordered, experimental water spill program for fish passage at Columbia and Snake River dams.

The Bonneville Power Administration will charge 143 of its utility customers throughout the Pacific Northwest, including PUD 3, surcharges over the next four months, totaling $10.2 million. The charges will cover the cost of a federal judge’s order for the test, which was requested by salmon advocates and environmental groups.

For August, the amount added to Mason PUD 3 customer bills is $1.32 per customer. The other three months are expected to be comparable. PUD 3’s total share of the program costs is estimated at $150,000 for the four month biological experiment.

Federal Judge Michael Simon ordered the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to conduct the spill experiment at Snake River dams April 3 to June 20. The trial was run at Columbia River dams April 10 through June 15.

The experiment was aimed at determining if sending more water through dam spillways instead of using it for power generation would help the passage of salmon in the Columbia River Basin.

Northwest RiverPartners reported last month that the extra spill reduced a young salmon’s migration time by only a few hours. The additional water spilling over dams also increased dissolved gasses in the Columbia and Snake Rivers, a hazard for young fish. Some of the sampled salmon showed “gas bubble trauma,” which is similar to what happens to human divers when they get the bends.*

Depending on how much electricity a customer uses, the Northwest Power & Conservation Council says at least 14 percent of their monthly bill already pays for Columbia River fish and wildlife programs.

Mason PUD 3 and its industry partners have been frustrated by the increasing role of the federal court system in directing specific changes to the way in which the Columbia River System is managed for fish and hydropower. Fisheries experts who understand the science and impacts should be those who are consulted. Court rulings in the past few years has bypassed science in favor of judicial and adversarial opinions.

This is a federal issue on which PUD 3 has been working with other regional utilities and agencies to educate federal lawmakers on the impact of added, experimental costs to customers in the region. Several members of the Pacific Northwest Congressional delegation have offered legislation (H.R. 3144) which passed the House in May, to protect ratepayers from extra payments for operation of the Columbia River hydropower system. Local customers may contact their Congressmen and U.S. Senators if they have concerns.

*RiverPartners is an advocacy group for utilities and user groups who depend on the Columbia River system for hydropower, irrigation, shipping, recreation, and other uses.

The Temporary Spill Surcharge in Brief

Court-Ordered Costs for Local Power Customers

  • At the demand of environmental groups, a federal judge ordered an experimental spill of extra water at Columbia and Snake River dams over four months to see if it would help in fish passage.
  • The experiment was not free; its price tag to the Pacific Northwest is $10.2 million. Those costs are borne by ratepayers throughout the region.
  • Depending on how much electricity a customer uses, the Northwest Power & Conservation Council says at least 14 percent of their monthly bill already pays for Columbia River fish and wildlife programs.
  • Mason PUD 3’s per customer share for the cost of the experimental spill will be $1.32 in August. The other three months are expected to be comparable. Participants in PUD 3’s low income senior and low income disabled customers will not be charged for the spill charge.
  • This is another court-ordered change in how the Columbia River System is managed for fish, hydropower, irrigation, barge navigation and recreation. It’s happening more often; without regard to the cost to electricity customers, and without adequate scientific review.
  • A bill in Congress would protect ratepayers from extra payments for operation of the Columbia River hydropower system. It passed to the U.S. House and is now in the U.S. Senate.
  • Local customers may contact their U.S. Representatives and Senators if they have questions and concerns.

How is the Columbia River System operated for Multiple Uses?

The Columbia River system is managed by a complex plan developed by a group of scientists.

It is designed to protect salmon and wildlife, while maximizing river flows for hydropower generation, irrigation, barge navigation, and recreation.

What Happened?

Environmental groups sued the federal government over the Columbia River management plan, saying it doesn’t do enough for fish and wildlife.

The group insisted on an experiment. They demanded that the Columbia and Snake River dams send more water through spillways to see if it will help with fish passage.

From the U-S District Court in Portland, Oregon, Judge Michael Simon ordered spill experiments at Snake River dams April 3 to June 20. They happened at Columbia River dams April 10 through June 15.

How Much Did the Experiment Cost?

Because dams were spilling water, not generating electricity, nearly $40 million in power generating revenues were lost. By making cuts in fish and wildlife programs, the Bonneville Power Administration was able to reduce that amount to $10.2 million.

By cutting back on hydropower generation, BPA had to purchase electricity on the open market to close the gap. In essence, clean, renewable, water-generated power was replaced by energy that uses some coal and natural gas.

BPA’s 143 BPA public power customers will make up the difference over the next four months by paying extra in their wholesale power bills.

Mason PUD 3’s per customer share for the cost of the experimental spill will be $1.32 in August. The other three months are expected to be comparable. Participants in PUD 3’s low income senior and low income disabled customers will not be charged for the spill charge.

Depending on how much electricity a customer uses, the Northwest Power & Conservation Council says at least 14 percent of their monthly bill already pays for Columbia River fish and wildlife programs.

Did it Work?

Northwest RiverPartners reported that the extra spill reduced a young salmon’s migration time by a few hours.

The extra water spilling over dams also increased dissolved gasses in the water, a hazard for young fish. Some of the sampled salmon showed “gas bubble trauma,” which is similar to what happens to human divers when they get the bends.

Federal courts have increasingly demanded specific changes to the way in which the Columbia River System is managed for multiple uses. The changes all come with a cost to ratepayers.

PUD 3’s concern is that these rulings have bypassed science at a high price.

What can we do?

This is a federal issue. PUD 3 works with other regional utilities and agencies to educate federal lawmakers on the impact of added, experimental costs to customers.

Several members of the Pacific Northwest Congressional delegation offered legislation (H.R. 3144) which passed the House in May. It is now in the U.S. Senate. The bill would protect ratepayers from extra payments for operation of the Columbia River hydropower system.

Local customers may contact their U.S. Representatives and Senators if they have questions and concerns.

Previous news release: Bill for Experimental Spill at Columbia River Dams Comes Due, June 26, 2018

Further Reading

Releasing Water Over Dams Means Higher Electric Bills in Mason County (Kitsap Sun, Bremerton, WA – Paywall Advisory)

https://www.kitsapsun.com/story/news/local/2018/07/24/columbia-snake-river-dam-mason-county-electric-bills-rise-water-release-fish/830588002/

Struggling Orcas Heavily Rely on Urban Chinook from Seattle-Area Rivers, New Analysis Shows (Seattle Times, WA – Paywall Advisory)

https://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/environment/struggling-orcas-heavily-rely-on-urban-chinook-from-seattle-area-rivers-new-analysis-shows/

Fraser River Is Now So Warm It May Kill Migrating Sockeye Salmon (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation)

https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/sockeye-salmon-water-temperature-1.4771607?cmp=rss

Fish and wildlife costs account for a significant portion of the rate Bonneville charges its wholesale power customers. Approximately one third of Bonneville’s 2017-2019 wholesale rate of $35.57 per megawatt hour is estimated to be associated with its fish and wildlife program. This includes the estimate of forgone revenue.

-- 2017 Columbia River Basin Fish and Wildlife Program Costs Report - Northwest Power and Conservation Council

Fish and wildlife costs translate to an average of 14.4 percent of a typical residential family bill.

-- Northwest Power and Conservation Council

A new poll released by NRDC and its partners today found nearly four in five Washington voters say preventing the extinction of wild salmon in the state is “extremely” or "very important." Only 6 percent said saving wild salmon is "not too important" to them. The poll also found that seventy-four percent of voters would be willing to pay an extra dollar per month on their energy bill (and many would pay quite a bit more) to help save the fish.

Sixty-three percent said they’d pay up to seven dollars per month for fish!

-- What Would You Pay to Save Salmon? – Natural Resources Defense Council, March 29, 2018.