SACRAMENTO — The power company that owns four Klamath River dams blocking the migration of imperiled salmon launched a counterattack Monday against a recent government study that declared it cheaper to remove the structures than to keep them.
Officials at Portland-based PacifiCorp said the study released by the California Energy Commission failed to account for certain unavoidable costs that could dramatically increase the price of demolition.
Bill Fehrman, president of PacifiCorp Energy, said the true costs of purchasing electricity to replace what would be lost if the dams were removed could cause the price of decommissioning the dams to skyrocket.
The commission study relied on a financial model that was "riddled with errors," making it unreliable, Fehrman said.
"We want good science, and we want good economic analysis," he said, adding that the study "is lacking on both counts."
The Klamath, which emerges from the Cascade Range in Oregon and empties into the Pacific Ocean north of Eureka, once was the nation's third-most productive salmon river, with up to 1.2 million salmon and steelhead trout joining an epic annual migration to spawn.
Today, the river's coho salmon are on the endangered species list, and its chinook salmon have suffered such a steep decline that the 2006 commercial season was virtually shut down on the West Coast.
Activists favor decommissioning four towering hydroelectric dams on the Klamath, a move that would reopen more than 300 miles of river that have been blocked to migrating salmon for more than half a century.
Their position was buoyed by the energy commission's study, released in December, which found that decommissioning the dams could cost $100 million less than operating them for another generation.
That study concluded that the cost of demolishing the dams and buying market-rate electricity to offset the lost hydropower over the next three decades would be far less than installing the vast infrastructure and making the improvements needed for the dams to win license renewal.
But PacifiCorp executives say that finding was based on faulty assumptions used to evaluate future energy costs.
Citing a study by Christensen Associates Energy Consulting LLC, the company said the commission's review was marred by errors and inconsistencies in the pricing of replacement power, failure to include future carbon emission taxes as part of replacement-energy costs and an inappropriate discount rate for financing.
"Removal of a project the size of Klamath would be unprecedented in North America and, to our knowledge, in the world," Fehrman said. "This is complex. It's not a simple matter of removing some concrete slabs."
Susanne Garfield, a spokeswoman for the California Energy Commission, said officials at that agency had just begun reviewing PacifiCorp's report.
"I'm sure this won't be the end of it," Garfield said, given that negotiations over the fate of the dams are continuing with Indian tribes, fishermen and environmentalists.