Jeff Duncan

02/21/2024 | Press release | Distributed by Public on 02/21/2024 15:48

Chairs Rodgers and Duncan Probe FERC on Grid Reliability Implications of Breaching the Lower Snake River Dams

Chairs Rodgers and Duncan Probe FERC on Grid Reliability Implications of Breaching the Lower Snake River Dams

February 21, 2024
Washington, D.C. - House Energy and Commerce Committee Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA) and Energy, Climate, and Grid Security Subcommittee Chair Jeff Duncan (R-SC) sent a letter to Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) Chair Willie L. Phillips and the other Commissioners regarding the threats to the reliability of the electric grid if the Lower Snake River dams were breached and whether FERC was involved in President Biden's efforts to breach those dams. KEY QUOTE: We are concerned that the Biden administration failed to consider the impact of dam breaches on electric reliability when conducting its secret negotiations. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) should have been involved in these discussions in order to ensure misguided policies do not further undermine grid reliability. The lower Snake River dams provide over 3,000 MW of affordable nameplate capacity that communities in the western United States depend on for reliability and resource adequacy. As noted in responses to our letter dated December 29, 2023, Chairman Phillips stated that "we cannot, as a country, afford to retire resources on which we depend for reliability without ensuring that they are replaced with sufficient resources to meet resource adequacy and other system needs." This includes the affordable, dispatchable, and renewable hydroelectric dams in the Columbia River Basin that millions of Americans depend on for reliability. In fact, during the most recent cold snap in the Pacific Northwest, federal dams, including the lower Snake River dams, "were vital to keeping the lights on" by producing over 1,000 MW of electricity each day to help BPA and the region meet high demands. BACKGROUND:
  • Dams along the Columbia Snake River system provide more than one third of all the hydropower capacity in the United States. In Washington State, hydropower accounts for 70 percent of the electricity consumed.
  • The dams helped transform Eastern Washington into one of the most productive agricultural regions in the world-over $3 billion worth of cargo is shipped on the Columbia Snake River System every year, including 40 percent of America's wheat.
  • Despite the importance of the dams, the Biden administration has been leading secret negotiations with other federal agencies in an attempt to breach the Lower Snake River dams. In the process, they've ignored the concerns of people who live in the Pacific Northwest and who would be significantly impacted if these dams were breached.

Members asked Chair Phillips to answer the following questions by March 6, 2024:

  1. Was FERC consulted as part of the Columbia River Basin negotiations to examine or explain the impacts on electric reliability relating to the commitments contained in the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU)? Was FERC included in these negotiations in any capacity to assess the impacts to affordability, reliability, and resource adequacy in the western United States? Please describe any communications you have had with BPA, CEQ, the White House, or any other federal entity during the Columbia River Basin negotiation process.
  2. Will FERC coordinate with other federal entities, like BPA and the administration, to examine the reliability impacts of the potential loss of dispatchable, clean, renewable hydroelectric power in the west as the MOU is implemented?
  3. How does FERC consider the negative impacts of policies that displace reliable generation when fulfilling its mission to safeguard reliability? How is FERC assessing the cumulative effects of state policies that impact wholesale system spanning multiple states and entire interconnections?
  4. On January 30, 2024, Mr. Jeremiah Baumann from the Department of Energy (DOE) testified before the Subcommittee on Energy, Climate, and Grid Security hearing. During the hearing, Mr. Baumann was asked about replacing the electric generation that would be lost if the four lower Snake River dams were breached. Mr. Baumann said "[Y]ou can use sort of existing off-the-shelf emissions-free technology like wind, solar, and current batteries for a big chunk, but then for the last bit, you really do need other technologies like hydrogen, something that is going to be that 24./7 dispatchable piece, and right now those are very expensive and hard to develop." Do you agree with DOE's assessment of the need for dispatchable replacement capacity if the Lower Snake River dams are breached? What cost-effective and commercially available technology would be the most efficient dispatchable replacement for the Lower Snake River dams?
  5. The Columbia River Basin MOU describes several replacement energy resources for the hydroelectricity from the dams, including distributed energy resources, efficiency measures, demand response, and other generation, storage, and transmission resources. Do you consider those adequate replacements for the over 3,000 MW of dispatchable nameplate capacity from the Lower Snake River dams? What quantity, in MW, of distributed energy resources, efficiency measures, demand response, and other generation is needed to replace the capacity, energy, and essential reliability services provided by the dams? Can these replacement resources provide comparable quality and quantity of these services? What effect will this have on energy prices and capacity contracts for consumers in the region? Would you consider the total costs for replacement resources just and reasonable when they are higher than they otherwise would be with these dispatchable resources still in service? How will the loss of the dams and the characteristics of the proposed replacement resources affect system capabilities needs, especially during peak periods?

CLICK HEREto read the full letter.