Delivering Community Clean Energy
November 17, 2022
Session 4: Smart Energy Siting and Replacing Lower Snake River Hydropower
After a brief break, Nancy Hirsh welcomed attendees back to the fourth and final panel of the Delivering Community Clean Energy Conference. As moderator, Nancy opened the session by emphasizing the importance of salmon recovery and the need for replacement energy services to be in place before the lower Snake River dams are removed. Both a 2018 and a 2022 study sponsored by NW Energy Coalition found that replacing the lower Snake River dams with clean energy is doable, affordable, and will improve reliability in the region. Nancy introduced the two panelists:
- Shannon Wheeler, Vice-Chairman, Nez Perce Tribal Executive Committee
- Debra Lekanoff, Washington State Representative, 40th Legislative District
Vice-Chairman Wheeler began opening remarks by delivering a brief history of the Nez Perce Tribe, which has been around for at least 1,600 years and signed a treaty with the United States in 1855 that enshrined their rights to hunt and fish in their usual and accustomed grounds. Those rights are the impetus for Nez Perce’s work to protect and restore salmon in the Northwest.
Representative Lekanoff started by explaining that historical decisions surrounding energy, such as whether to build hydropower dams, did not reflect the sovereignty of Tribal Nations in Washington. When making current decisions, Representative Lekanoff remembers that history and is working together with Tribes to uplift their needs in the decision-making process. That includes the needs of salmon, which have been an imperative part of Washington State long before any of us. Representative Lekanoff then reflected on the difference between decision-making in the State Legislature, which is based on the politics of today and works on a biennium, versus the decision-making in Indian Country, which is based on seven generations into the future.
Nancy guided Vice-Chairman Wheeler and Representative Lekanoff through Q&A, starting with a question about how we can best utilize the once-in-a-lifetime funding from the federal government to invest in clean energy and salmon recovery.
Representative Lekanoff began by emphasizing the need for new clean energy development, while also planning for future replacement of the lower Snake River dams. Rep. Lekanoff zeroed in on the current massive backlog of salmon recovery projects that can begin to have an immediate impact if the State were to invest in them. She also brought up the need for building a workforce that is able to contribute to the clean energy future that we need, from welders to computer engineers.
Vice-Chairman Wheeler spoke about the opportunity for Tribes to use federal funding to keep benefits within Tribes, themselves. There is a large amount of funding specifically for Tribes, and Vice-Chairman Wheeler is excited about the opportunity to build a workforce, create new institutions, and create Tribal energy sovereignty.
Nancy followed up by asking about the rush to build new clean energy projects with this influx of funding. How do we build out necessary clean energy projects in a thoughtful way?
Vice-Chairman Wheeler highlighted the need for collaboration and coordination with all interested parties. As an example, he spoke about the high importance of cultural sites for Tribes, and the need to site projects in a regulated way that takes Tribal perspectives into account. Vice-Chairman Wheeler also emphasized the need to shift how we think about using energy, explaining that clean energy should be used first when the sun is shining or the wind is blowing.
Representative Lekanoff agreed with Vice-Chairman Wheeler, and expanded by explaining that it is time that Tribal governments become equal decision-makers and co-managers of natural resources. Representative Lekanoff used the fight against coal terminals as an example of how the permitting process does not sufficiently address the importance of Tribal cultural sites, and must be updated. She looks forward to using the expertise available to think outside of the box to address these issues.
Pivoting, Nancy asked about the role of mapping in siting clean energy projects, and how to balance trade-offs when designing mapping tools.
Vice-Chairman Wheeler began by speaking about the need for compromise. For example, not all Nez Perce gathering lands are weighted equally – they may be willing to develop a project on lands that are less fruitful than other gathering lands. However, this requires that all parties respect each other’s weighting of different land uses.
Representative Lekanoff built upon that by speaking of the cumulative impact of development. Permitting processes only analyze one specific plot of land, but a wider view is needed to see the cumulative impact of multiple developments on Tribal lands. In order to keep lands healthy and harvestable for future generations, overdevelopment must be avoided.
A question from the audience asked Vice-Chairman Wheeler to talk about Nimiipuu Energy. He explained that the goal of the project was to achieve net-zero for the Tribe. They began by developing a workforce of more than 38 tribal members, providing jobs and a livable wage. They then installed solar panels and batteries, and expanded their impact through net metering contract, selling up to 10 MW of clean energy back into the grid. The Tribe looks forward to utilizing funds from the IRA and IIJA to expand this project. He also believes that Tribes with large land masses could tap into federal funding, produce many megawatts of energy, connect it to the grid, and become part of the solution.
Nancy then asked Representative Lekanoff what her clean energy priorities are for the upcoming state legislative session. Representative Lekanoff spoke about the fact that the Pacific Northwest is the only region in the country to not be a part of a Regional Transmission Organization (RTO), and the need to develop an RTO. However, creating an RTO must be done carefully so that each state and utility is able to meet their various clean energy targets. RTOs will allow energy markets to be better managed, reducing costs for customers, and giving utilities a better way to plan.
Representative Lekanoff also emphasized the need for salmon recovery and her work to encourage Governor Inslee to make salmon recovery a priority.
In response to an audience question about the timeline for lower Snake River dam removal, Vice-Chairman Wheeler replied that thirty years ago would have been ideal. However, they are working with Senator Murray and Governor Inslee to put their report into action and ensure that the timeframe does not move. Vice-Chairman Wheeler is excited for the funding from federal legislation to catalyze the action plan forward.
Representative Lekanoff built off those comments to emphasize the need to work together to solve hard problems, like the lower Snake River dams. She explained that allowing the salmon to go extinct is like erasing her people – it is unacceptable. For the next generation, Washington State cannot afford to allow salmon to go extinct.