Article by WashingtonStateWire. Published on Tuesday, June 07, 2011 EST.
It was over eighty degrees in Wenatchee on Saturday. My wife and I rode the Harley over on Friday to visit my mom. Dot, as we affectionately call her is eighty-two, living in one of those fifty-five or better communities and doing just fine. Fifty-five and better? I’m “better” than fifty-five and I’m not sure it’s “better”…anyway.
My mom has the risk gene of the family and when I asked her if she would like to ride up to Rocky Reach dam on the bike, she said, “you bet.” So in about a half hour Dot and I are standing at the observation level at the dam and watching water go through the spillway. For those of you who know as much about operation of dams and rivers for power production as you do the reality of global warming let me tell you it’s a sad sight. Oh, it’s powerful, and majestic as a gazillion gallons of water pushes through the narrow slit of the spill-gate and the force causes turbulent water landscapes hundreds of yards down stream. But sad.
After decades of work with both private and municipal utilities, and a first hand experience with Chelan PUD that owns the dam, I know how much money is flowing through the spill gate. Too much water at the wrong time, it’s simple. But every drop that does not produce electricity is a nickel not taken in by the sale of the power. But so is life.
Few people know that the Columbia River is actually “operated” as a single system. In simple terms all the dam owners talk to each other constantly to maximize the flow of water. This limits the amount of slosh-over from one dam to the other. If they have to hold or relieve water from a reservoir, they merely credit the upstream or down stream dam on a giant electronic spreadsheet, and at the end of the day they equalize the value. Talk like this drives some people crazy. Because, you bet manipulation of the river takes its toll on wildlife. But it is a constant balance between economic production and wildlife protection.
So there it was, all that water, flowing right through the dam, just one of many due to big snow, late thaw and warm weather. And I had to tell my mom that the windmill operators are all upset because with this surplus of cheap hydro power they still wanted to be subsidized for running their unreliable, very expensive bird choppers.
When I told Dot about the other sad situation in our state, hydro power not being included in the definition of “renewable resources”, and the citizens unknowing payments for expensive wind machines they don’t even need, she almost did not believe me.
But believe me, if the general public knew the renewable resource initiative they adopted a few years ago locked them out of cheap renewable hydro power, there might be a day of reckoning for the grand subsidy program.
It was a beautiful day at Rocky Reach dam; it was a sad day for the pure economics of power generation.