Frequently asked questions
We’ve been asked a lot of questions about Idaho Congressman Mike Simpson’s “Northwest in Transition” proposal. Here are our answers based on what we know now about his proposal. As details are further developed, these answers may change.
What would dam removal do for salmon and steelhead in Idaho?
Many studies by fisheries scientists and others have shown that removal of the four lower Snake River dams would significantly improve salmon and steelhead populations. Most recently, the 2020 Columbia River Systems Operations Environmental Impact Statement showed that removing these dams would more than double the number of fish returning to Idaho immediately, and put them on a pathway to abundance. An aggressive spill program at the lower Columbia River dams, as Rep. Simpson’s plan calls for, will improve these results even more and bring back hundreds of thousands of wild fish to Idaho once again.
What would replace the energy from the four dams?
Congressman Simpson’s concept provides $14 billion in funds and a process for the region to determine the optimal package of reliable, clean energy sources to replace electricity from the four lower Snake River dams, and lost generation from “salmon spill” at the lower Columbia River dams. Specific sources would be determined by a Request For Proposals (RFP) process. Nearly all utilities complete RFPs when they need new energy generation sources to find the best projects at the lowest prices right when they’re needed. In this case, an RFP would likely seek, analyze, and choose a portfolio of resources that fulfills the needs of the Bonneville Power Administration’s customers, most importantly to ensure reliable and affordable energy.
Energy system planners across the country are finding that combinations of renewable energy technologies, like wind and solar power, paired with battery storage, can provide the service we need at the least cost. These hybrid systems are “dispatchable” meaning they can release power whenever it is needed. Other options on the horizon include rapid developments in methane digesters at dairies, pumped storage hydroelectric projects (which use pumps to move water uphill into a reservoir, which then flows downhill to produce power), and the small modular nuclear reactors under research at the Idaho National Lab. Every major energy system in America is moving towards these clean resources and Simpson’s proposal would enable the Northwest to continue to be a clean energy leader.
Where would new energy resources be developed? Who makes the decisions?
The RFP process would likely analyze potential locations. That could mean new generation facilities would be placed where they best fulfill the needs of the electrical system. Building solar and wind farms where the sun shines and the wind blows most, for instance. And deploying other technologies where it is safest and most impactful to do so. One of our region’s key assets is a vast network of power lines which allows us to tap different energy sources and balance our needs over a wide footprint. Simpson’s proposal builds on this asset by enabling investment in resources across the region to bring careers and energy security to local communities.
ICL advocates for clean energy sources in Idaho that benefit local communities and economies. Idaho’s decision-makers would likely include consumer-owned utilities — the electric cooperatives and municipalities across our state that provide at-cost power to much of Idaho. These new resources would likely be built to meet their needs, and they’ll likely weigh in on what sources they use and where energy generation facilities are built.
Who would make decisions about funding? What about public input?
Congressman Simpson’s framework encourages feedback and engagement from stakeholders to develop the details and direct investment and funds. As envisioned currently, the Columbia Basin Fund would serve as a repository for investments, administered by the U.S. Department of Energy, in conjunction with Northwest states and tribes. Fish and wildlife funding would be distributed by a proposed Northwest State and Tribe Fish and Wildlife Council, an organization overseen by four state and four tribal representatives.
What can I do to support this proposal?
Write Idaho’s Congressional delegation and Governor Brad Little to demonstrate your support for Congressman Simpson’s proposal. The concept is a framework that takes all stakeholders into account and seeks to make all communities whole, while restoring Idaho’s wild salmon and steelhead to abundance and ending a long-standing cycle of litigation. ICL believes it’s the start of developing solutions together for Idahoans and the people of the Northwest. Urge your family, friends, and community members to speak up for a prosperous future for Idaho.
It’s also important to engage other elected officials at all levels — state legislators, county commissioners, and city councils and mayors — and utility board directors to let them know that this is an opportunity to lead their communities toward a better future as envisioned in Congressman Simpson’s concept.