CEO’s Message – January 2024

Opposing a Secret Agreement

Clay R. Fitch

I find something refreshing about the calendar turning from December to January. The new year gives us a fresh start and a clean slate. There is always something exciting about new beginnings. This year, however, I’m feeling a bit of déjà vu as I find myself in a similar place to begin 2024 as I ended 2023— thanking you, our members, for showing up in a big way for a vital cause.

Seriously, thank you.

After spending the fall reaching out to our elected officials about the importance of the lower Snake River dams, which I updated you on last month, the secret agreement we feared leaked in early December. The agreement was between the Biden Administration and the Six Sovereigns, which includes the states of Oregon and Washington and the Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation, the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, the Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs Reservation of Oregon and the Nez Perce Tribe. Public utilities were left with about a week to drum up as much opposition as possible before the December 15 deadline.

With the help of our friends at the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association and their Voices for Cooperative Power toolkit, the region was able to get nearly 20,000 people to sign a petition in about 8 days. Several hundred signatures—and at least half of all signatures submitted from Nevada—came from our neck of the woods. That’s pretty remarkable and is a credit to your diligence and efforts.

I was in Washington, D.C., during that time, and your efforts attracted the attention of our representatives. We had productive meetings with most of our representatives and established some of the clear logistical and political drawbacks to this agreement. While the Biden Administration didn’t change course, it clearly softened some of the language surrounding the agreement.

All of these negotiations and deals were an attempt to settle 2 decades of litigation and lawsuits over the operation of the federal hydro system in the Pacific Northwest. Unfortunately, the likely outcome of this effort is replacing 1 lawsuit with several new ones. At this point, we expect things to play out in court as Montana and Idaho are already preparing to oppose the agreement.

I want to be clear, Wells Rural Electric and all of the other utilities that benefit from the affordable, reliable and carbon-free electricity produced by the dams have long been willing participants in the environmental stewardship of our region. We already participate in 1 of the most comprehensive wildlife mitigation programs in the country. We have taken steps to improve the survival of salmon and other environmental issues time and time again when the procedures and costs are based in good science and the processes are inclusive of all the affected parties.

The agreement with the Biden Administration met neither of those standards. It creates a great deal of uncertainty in the region when it comes to affordability and reliability. At worst, it creates a pathway to breaching the lower Snake River dams and potentially other hydro resources in the region without accounting for an equitable replacement.

Your board and staff will work with other regional partners and representatives to ensure that you continue to have access to safe, affordable, and reliable electricity. We have a long path ahead, but your actions have ensured that our voice, ignored for so much of this process, has started to be heard.

Best wishes,
Clay R. Fitch
Chief Executive Officer