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Agreement developed in secret diminishes power supply

by Gary Wiens
| December 3, 2023 12:00 AM

A recent agreement negotiated in secret by the White House could have serious consequences for western-Montana electric cooperatives.

The federal government is planning by Dec. 15 to sign an agreement with Oregon and Washington, along with four tribes outside of Montana.

The agreement was developed in secret without input from public power customers such as western Montana’s electric cooperatives, which depend on the power produced by hydroelectric dams in the Basin to deliver affordable, reliable and carbon-free electricity to their members. 

Terms of the agreement were ordered by the government to remain confidential but were made public by several federal lawmakers. The agreement paves the way for breaching of the lower Snake River dams, and lays out a plan to replace consistent baseload hydroelectric power with less reliable, more expensive, intermittent renewable energy.

If enacted, the 220,000 Montanans served by these co-ops could lose access to this power.

Montana’s electric cooperatives are most alarmed at the agreement’s plans to alter water flows to reduce electricity generation, adversely impacting much more than power generation. Other affected interests include irrigation and municipal water supply, recreation, and even Montana grain shipments.

The agreement would also commit the government to fund and provide technical assistance to non-Montana tribes to develop replacement power, should Congress authorize lower Snake River dam breaching. 

Western Montana’s cooperatives would likely see significantly escalated costs, higher rates, and limited power availability, creating a greater risk of rolling blackouts in the region.

This agreement is wrong for Montana. The 2023 Montana Legislature overwhelmingly approved a joint resolution on a bipartisan vote expressly opposing breaching the lower Snake River dams, with near-unanimous support from the Montana Indian Caucus. And a 2022 scientific statewide poll of Montana voters showed strong support for hydroelectric dams, including the lower Snake River dams. 

I urge all Montanans to contact Senators Tester and Daines and Representatives Rosendale and Zinke without delay, asking them to help stop this secretly developed government agreement that hurts western Montana electricity consumers.

Gary Wiens is CEO of the Montana Electric Cooperatives’ Association.