Enloe Hydroelectric project defies economic logic

I attended the recent ratepayer “listening session” in Brewster hosted by the three Okanogan County PUD (OPUD) commissioners. The only issue raised was re-development of the Enloe Hydroelectric Project.  Despite hearing a wall of opposition at this meeting and the previous session held in Tonasket last spring, the commissioners appeared steadfast in their determination to continue spending ratepayer money on a project that defies economic logic. The estimated cost of power produced by the project could be nearly three times the current market rate for electricity.  And the additional cost of power generation due to lower than anticipated streamflows resulting from climate change, and the State requirement to provide aesthetic flows over the dam, have not even been included in these cost estimates. The need to pursue this expensive power is hard to understand when the PUD has recently signed a power purchase agreement with Douglas County PUD for power from Wells Dam that will provide up to 134 MW of power into the OPUD.  This is nearly twice what the OPUD currently supplies to its nearly 20,500 customers at peak demand.

Why do the commissioners cling to this dream of re-development of Enloe dam when so many other cost effective and sustainable alternatives exist?  Is it that they can’t admit that the $16 million already invested in the project was a waste of money?  Or is it truly their concern about the liability the OPUD might face to remove the dam and clean up the accumulated sediments above the dam (which may or may not be contaminated with heavy metals from mining in the upper watershed)? If it is the latter, why do they refuse to gather any actual facts to support or refute this possible alternative?  Private, State and federal funding are available to largely offset the financial costs for removal and remediation, yet the OPUD fails to fully explore these opportunities.

This behavior seems illogical if not irresponsible given the opposition from ratepayers.  They are, after all, our representatives in the OPUD, and we expect that they will fulfill their responsibilities to present and future generations by scrupulously evaluating the alternative to the project of removing the dam as a least expensive alternative to forging ahead with development at all costs.

These relatively new commissioners and a new general manager were not involved in the earlier decisions to invest in the project. And it would seem easy enough to walk away from the project before committing ratepayers to pay untold millions more (estimates range from $35M to $50M+) to fully develop the project.  It was not, after all, their decision to come this far, but their thumb prints are all over the decision to go further.

Stephen Ralph

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