Wednesday, July 16, 2008

PacifiCorp’s Customers Petition the California Public Utilities Commission to review the company’s spending on Klamath River Dams

Some Californians who get their electricity from Portland-based PacifiCorp want the California Public Utilities Commission to review PacifiCorp’s spending on its Klamath River dams and to provide an expert, independent assessment of what is best for the ratepayers.

PacifiCorp's Iron Gate Dam

The ratepayers filed their petition on July 14th with the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) asking that the CPUC use existing rules to review the prudence of PacifiCorp continuing to spend heavily in its campaign to secure a new long-term license from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) for operating its Klamath Hydroelectric Project. They fear PacifiCorp has already spent too much (about $50 million) on the antiquated dams, and that it is in the ratepayers’ best interest for the dams to come out.

“We’ve become increasingly concerned,” said ratepayer Susan Botts, “as we’ve watched this dam re-licensing issue play out.” Botts and her family live on the Yurok Reservation near the mouth of the Klamath River. Botts says that she signed the petition because she wants to see the Klamath River restored and because she has become convinced by a number of recent technical studies that it will be cheaper to remove the dams than to solve the many environmental problems which the dams cause or make worse.

The people who signed the petition to the CPUC live in Del Norte County and in Siskiyou County.

Because of the toxic algae, nutrients and other pollution that the dams produce and release down the river, the petitioners say that the Klamath Hydroelectric dams represent a human health risk and a huge financial and legal liability that must not fall on the ratepayers, many of whom have only modest incomes. “If PacifiCorp insists on spending recklessly trying to re-license the Klamath Project, then PacifiCorp should be the ones financially and legally on the hook – not us.” Botts said.

“We have our own Erin Brockovich story happening right here in our back yard” said Felice Pace, another of the petition-signers. “The human health catastrophe that Erin Brockovich uncovered cost PG&E hundreds of millions of dollars. We don’t want that here and we certainly don’t want to have to pay for it.”

Toxic Algae at Iron Gate Reservoir >

Customers are called “ratepayers” in utilities parlance. PacifiCorp has been claiming for some time that their only interest is to protect the interests of their ratepayers. Botts, Pace and the other petitioners think the company’s behavior is more geared toward getting the ratepayers to pay for everything.

PacifiCorp makes about $3 million a year in profit from the Klamath dams — paid by the ratepayers. If the ratepayers are forced to pay for PacifiCorp’s relicensing plan, they would end up paying PacifiCorp an annual profit of about $40 million — for dams that the downstream public doesn’t want. “Does this make sense?” asked Pace. “Why should we pay PacifiCorp a profit on something that we don’t want – that harms us? We need the CPUC to give this situation a thorough and independent analysis.”

“We simply don’t trust PacifiCorp to look out for our interest,” said Susan Botts.

Portland-based PacifiCorp’s is owned by Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Investment Company.

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