CEO’s Message – March 2024

Details Matter

Clay R. Fitch

Often, it is hard to make informed or good decisions without understanding the nuance and complexities—the details—surrounding a topic. This is true for many things, but it is particularly true in the utility world.

From power supply to transmission and distribution to the cooperative difference, our industry is incredibly nuanced. Fortunately, we have developed employees and strategic partners who specialize in understanding those nuances to best serve you, our members.

However, details are often lost. We live in a society where communication is limited to 280 characters or the expectation that a picture really can say a thousand words. I certainly recognize the benefits of sharing our lives and staying connected with people regardless of our physical distance, but our collective attention spans are shrinking. We are losing our appetite for crucial details.

Details were at the forefront when it came to the Biden administration’s agreement over the operation of the lower Snake River dams during a hearing of the House’s Subcommittee on Energy, Climate, and Grid Security on January 30. I would not expect anybody to crave watching 4 hours of a Congressional hearing, but I thought there were some key details worth sharing:

  • Supporters of the agreement believe all voices were included during the process and that is technically correct. There were listening sessions and comment periods at the front end where all parties, including WREC, were allowed to participate. Those opportunities, however, had little to do with the final agreement. When it came time for actual negotiations, our interests, as well as those of the ports and shipping industries and the agricultural industry, were cut out. 6 of the 8 states served by Bonneville Power Administration’s dam system were also not included when it mattered.
  • The dams impact fish survival. But so do warming ocean conditions, predation from non-native species, and pollution. Many of the salmon runs considered in crisis do not pass through dams. We have willingly participated in 1 of the most comprehensive wildlife mitigation plans in the country. We want to do what’s best for fish and the rivers but we want those plans to be based on good science. We don’t think this qualifies.
  • The agreement does not include the removal of the dams. Only Congress has that authority. However, there are stipulations for their operation that would remove their economic viability, forcing Congress’ hand. Many of the agreement participants have celebrated it as a pathway to breaching the dams.
  • 1 heartening observation was the acknowledgment from all sides of the committee that the hydro dams are a vital resource to the region. While other forms of renewable energy are part of the solution, also acknowledged by the entire subcommittee, they are not replacements for the dispatchable generation—generation that can be ramped up or down at a moment’s notice to meet demand around the clock—offered by hydropower dams.

Fortunately, the public utility world had a representative on the panel. I have to say, National Rural Electric Association Executive Director Jim Matheson did a fantastic job representing all the above points and many more. I’m glad the members of the subcommittee had a well-informed advocate for public power to provide some of the proper context for a potentially harmful agreement.

Sometimes, the devil really is in the details.

Best wishes,

Clay R. Fitch
Chief Executive Officer