The governors of the Northwest say their states must act together to protect the inexpensive power from hydroelectric dams or watch deregulation cripple local industry.
“There’s a lot of folks east of the Mississippi who would love to get their hands on the federal power capabilities of the Northwest, which would be very detrimental to us,” Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber said Monday following a meeting in Boise with Govs. Phil Batt of Idaho and Gary Locke of Washington.
It was the second meeting of the chief executives, and the first for Democrat Locke. Gov. Marc Racicot of Montana was unable to attend because of weather, but talked with the trio in a teleconference.
They also were briefed on the Northwest Power Planning Council’s review of the Bonneville Power Administration.
The governors were looking for some common chords as deregulation threatens the cheap power from eight reservoirs on the Columbia and Snake rivers. Conservationists are calling for breaching one or more of the dams to revive salmon and steelhead runs.
“One complication that arises with deregulation and the necessity to have Bonneville operate with some kind of certainty is that we cannot look at big changes in the configuration of the river system during a period that they’ve guaranteed rates to certain customers,” Batt said.
“It’s easy to talk about destroying the system in the rivers, but those dams were built for a purpose, one of them flood control,” he said. “If we didn’t have the dams on the Boise River, we’d be in trouble right now.”
He added he has not advocated drawing down John Day Reservoir on the Columbia to minimum operating pool to help fish migrations until the financial impact is determined.
Batt said no agreement is in the works over Idaho Power Co. Chairman Joe Marshall’s suggestion that the state stand behind the utility when it applies for dam relicensing to protect Idaho ratepayers from higher bills.
The governors hope to reach a consensus on deregulation for Congress by year’s end.
“I think the value of having the four governors meet on a regular basis is we can find the 70 or 80 percent we agree on and begin to move forward on that, and to develop a process to resolve some of the thornier issues,” Locke said.
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