Tuesday night’s power outage in parts of Kittitas County was a good reminder that we tend to take our power supply for granted.

Another more significant reminder would be the lengthy story published in Sunday’s Seattle Times on the challenges the Bonneville Power Administration faces in repairing its aging hydroelectric equipment and coming into compliance with measures to restore salmon runs.

Kittitas County residents, as do residents across the region, have a heavy stake in how BPA addresses these challenges.

While the wind farms and solar farms have drawn notice over the past decade or so, hydro is the region’s dominant power source. In this state, hydro accounts for about two-thirds of total electricity produced, according to the Energy Information Administration.

Our power providers in Kittitas County — Puget Sound Energy, Public Utility District 1 and the city of Ellensburg — purchase power from BPA.

Although it may not seem like it when we’re paying our monthly power bill, the BPA hydro system provides relatively inexpensive power.

In short, this region would be a dramatically different place without the BPA hydroelectric power system.

The history of this region’s development is tied to the BPA, but so is its future.

Although, hydro is not considered “renewable” energy by this state in its rules to require utilities to maintain a certain percentage of “renewables” in their power portfolio, hydro is by definition a renewable energy. The United Nations Climate Change report, talks about hydro power’s role across the world in avoiding greenhouse gas admissions.

Construction started on the Grand Coulee Dam in 1933. Obviously, the machinery involved in dams is going to require repairs — and the machinery in massive dams is going to occasionally require massive repairs. The Seattle Times article mentions crews finding large cracks, worn out bearings and a defect in a critical weld in Grand Coulee Dam’s powerhouse. The article also references the 2016 BPA Report that says one-third main-stem Columbia River equipment has exceeded its design life — there are 31 dams along the Columbia and its tributaries.

Maintenance and repairs are part of doing business but when those costs are combined with the expense of measures being taken to restore salmon runs, the logical conclusion is the cost of power will go up. Rates already have been going up steadily over the past decade.

But for this county and this region it is hard to come up with a viable, let alone cheaper, source of energy. Wind and solar has been in the headlines, but as an overall source of reliable power they are not in the ballpark, or within a 1,000 mile radius of the ballpark, of hydro. Wind, solar and biomass account for 3 percent of this state’s energy supply.

For the foreseeable future, this region is dependent on the BPA power supply. That means paying close attention to the needs of the system, the demands placed on it and the overall cost of continuing this power supply deep into the 21st century.

We are fortunate to live in a region with an extensive hydro power system. The days of it being “cheap” power are long gone, but as a source of power today it remains extremely valuable.


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