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New data back state's Klamath plan

March 27, 2007|Eric Bailey | Times Staff Writer

SACRAMENTO — Firing the latest salvo in a battle over the future of the Klamath River, the California Energy Commission on Monday reaffirmed its stand that removing four hydroelectric dams that block salmon migration would cost less than trying to keep them.

In December, the commission issued a report asserting that removing the dams and purchasing replacement power would cost roughly $100 million less than installing extensive new fish ladders for imperiled salmon and steelhead.

PacifiCorp, the Portland-based company that owns the dams, volleyed back with a 50-page study of its own suggesting that the commission study, performed by a private consulting firm, got it wrong.

The power company argued that the commission failed to consider several important economic and environmental factors and that renovating the dams to accommodate the fish would actually save $46 million more than dismantling them. The firm submitted its study to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which is considering whether the dams will win a new long-term operating license.

In recent weeks, the state Energy Commission's consultant ran the numbers anew, taking in numbers PacifiCorp said it ignored. The results were far different from PacifiCorp's.

The commission's latest report said that dam removal would be even more cost-effective than its consultant originally determined -- about $114 million less than relicensing the dams and installing the fish ladders.

California Energy Commissioner John Geesman said in a statement that the new analysis, which used PacifiCorp's numbers, "clearly indicates" that the utility's electrical customers would save money with dam removal.

PacifiCorp's four dams produce enough power for thousands of homes in the Northwest but have blocked 300 miles of upriver habitat for salmon and steelhead. Federal wildlife agencies have ordered that the dams be retrofitted with fish ladders, but PacifiCorp argues that the dams are too tall for ladders to work. The company proposed using trucks to haul fish around the dams.

Commission officials said their economic model provided all sides with a "good-faith analysis of the pros and cons" of the various options for the dams. The model is available online at www.energy.ca.gov/klamath.

eric.bailey@latimes.com

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