Seattle City Light Supports Renegotiation of Columbia River Treaty

Grand Coulee Dam on the Columbia River — Photo by US Bureau of Reclamation

Seattle City Light is pleased by an announcement that the United States and Canada will begin negotiations in 2018 to modernize the landmark Columbia River Treaty, which has supported hydropower operations, flood control, irrigation, municipal water use, navigation and recreation on the international river since 1964.

“We’re thankful to the Pacific Northwest congressional delegation for their support in getting Columbia River Treaty negotiations started with Canada, American Indian tribes and Canadian First Nations,” City Light’s Interim Power Supply Officer Robert Cromwell said. “It’s time to modernize the operations of the Columbia River for power, flood control and address important ecosystem functions.”

Under the existing treaty, river users in the United States, including hydroelectric dam operators such as the Bonneville Power Administration, pay Canada for power production and flood control support provided by their reservoirs. The U.S. electric utilities and agencies covered by the treaty believe they are paying too much for that power production and flood control support.

City Light supports the regional recommendation that was submitted to the U.S. State Department in 2013. It calls for:

  • Better address the region’s interest in a reliable and economically sustainable hydropower system and reflect a more reasonable assessment of the value of coordinated power operations with Canada;
  • Continue to provide a similar level of flood risk management to protect public safety and the region’s economy;
  • Include ecosystem-based function as one of the primary purposes of the treaty; and
  • Create flexibility within the Treaty to respond to climate change, changing water supply needs and other potential future changes in system operations while continuing to meet authorized purposes such as navigation and irrigation.

Such changes could reduce Seattle City Light’s costs for the electricity it buys from BPA by $9 million to $11 million per year.

More details about the regional recommendation are available here.

City Light Pleased U.S. Will Start Columbia River Talks with Canada

Seattle City Light is pleased to learn that the United States will start talks with Canada regarding an update for the Columbia River Treaty.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry announced the decision during a call with U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.).

City Light is a member of the Columbia River Treaty Power Group, which has advocated for a fair and equitable outcome on behalf of the estimated 6.4 million Northwest electric ratepayers that member utilities serve. Congratulations to Sen. Cantwell and the Pacific Northwest congressional delegation for their hard work securing support from the Obama administration to begin negotiations with Canada.

Here is the text of Sen. Cantwell’s news release about the announcement.


U.S. Ready to Start Talks on Columbia River Treaty

Conversation with Secretary of State John Kerry is the culmination of years-long effort

State Department finalizes C-175, authorizing talks with Canada

WASHINGTON, D.C.  – Today, in a call with U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA), U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said that the United States is ready to start talks with Canada on the Columbia River Treaty. The call comes just hours after the State Department finalized Circular 175, authorizing talks with Canada to modernize the treaty.  Cantwell has for years been urging the State Department to begin the negotiation process.

Updating the Columbia River Treaty will present exciting new economic opportunities for Washington State, as well as providing a new focus on protecting the river’s ecosystem and addressing flood control.

The U.S. and Canada will work together to find win-win solutions to manage the river, looking to cooperate on critical clean energy solutions such as smart grids with intermittent power, grid-scale storage, and clean infrastructure. The Treaty has not been updated since it was first ratified in 1964.

The government of Canada had refused to begin talks until the U.S. finalized its negotiating parameters, which are laid out in a document called a Circular 175.

“The United States is officially ready to move forward on negotiating a new Columbia River Treaty‎,” said Senator Maria Cantwell after hearing the good news from Secretary of State John Kerry. “A new agreement is critical to so many aspects of our Northwest economy. I congratulate the administration on completing the Circular 175 negotiating terms and hope that now the Canadian Government will come to the table and start detailing what a new hydro-agreement will look like.”

The Circular 175 is based on regional recommendations developed by stakeholders in the Columbia River Basin. The recommendations balance ecosystem functions and community concerns including hydropower generation and flood control.

Cantwell has been on the forefront in the charge to modernize the treaty. Most recently, the Senator led 21 of her Senate and House colleagues in a letter to Secretary Kerry pressing his agency to hasten its finalization of the Circular 175. In March of this year, she spoke to Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau about the need to move forward with negotiations. The Senator continued her push in June, meeting with Canadian Ambassador David MacNaughton to discuss progress on the Canadian side. Last year, Cantwell sent a letter to President Obama with 25 other members of the Pacific Northwest Congressional delegation, urging the Administration to move forward with a strategy for addressing the treaty. In 2014, Cantwell joined with 25 of her colleagues to press for action on moving the process forward.


A Call for Talks on the 50th Anniversary of the Columbia River Treaty

On the 50th Anniversary of the Columbia River Treaty, a group of 88 electric utilities, including Seattle City Light, and industry associations representing 6.4 million Northwest electric customers, is renewing its call to the Obama Administration to begin Columbia River Treaty talks with Canada in 2014 and to use the Regional Recommendation as a basis for treaty talks.  

September 16th marks the 50th Anniversary of the Columbia River Treaty and is the first opportunity for either country to seek significant changes to the Treaty.

“Any future Treaty must ensure that Northwest electric ratepayers are treated fairly,” said Scott Corwin, executive director, Public Power Council. “Currently, according to the U.S. government, Canada receives vastly more value from Treaty operations.  Our region’s highest Treaty priority must be to address this inequity.”

The current treaty uses an outdated 50 year old formula for calculating the Treaty’s power benefits or payments to Canada. The formula relies on assumptions that do not reflect current Columbia River Treaty operations.  This payment, known as the “Canadian Entitlement” is estimated to cost Northwest electric ratepayers 70 to 90 percent more than it should.  

In 2013, after a three-year stakeholder input process in the Northwest, the U.S. Entity led by the Bonneville Power Administration and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers issued the Regional Recommendation for the Future of the Columbia River Treaty.

The Regional Recommendation says the “Canadian Entitlement” should be reduced and calls for a decision in 2014 to proceed with treaty talks with Canada and to complete that process no later than 2015.  The Power Group believes the Regional Recommendation should serve as the basis for treaty talks between the United States and Canada.

Last April, the 26-member Northwest Congressional Delegation sent a letter to President Obama supporting the Regional Recommendation call to address current treaty inequities that impact more than 6.4 million electric ratepayers in the Northwest.

Termination of the treaty is one option if Canada refuses to share treaty benefits more equitably with the American people.  A termination notice to Canada would trigger a renegotiation of several outdated aspects of the treaty.  The Power Group encourages the United States and Canada to launch Columbia River Treaty talks and to agree to a more equitable sharing of benefits under the treaty. 

In addition, the Power Group maintains that a modernized Columbia River Treaty should maintain flood risk management that’s similar to current levels.  Any proposals to alter flood control protection practices should be carefully considered, authorized by the Congress, with an eye toward protecting life and property. Furthermore, Northwest electric ratepayers should not be expected to bear flood control protection costs. Funding for flood risk management should be consistent with national policies of funding through the federal budget.

The Columbia River Treaty Power Group provides a forum for electric utilities, industry associations, and other entities representing an estimated 6.4 million electric ratepayers of the Northwest that depend on the Columbia River for power, flood control, navigation and other benefits.

Northwest Lawmakers Highlight Importance of Columbia River Treaty

 About 40 percent of the electricity Seattle City Light delivers to its customers comes from the Bonneville Power Administration and its hydroelectric dams on the Columbia River. That’s why Seattle City Light is thankful for the 26 members of Congress from the Pacific Northwest who crafted a letter to President Obama highlighting the importance for consumers of renegotiating the Columbia River Treaty with Canada. 

Read the news release issued by the congressional delegation below.

26 Northwest Lawmakers Highlight the Importance of the Columbia River Treaty

Bipartisan Group of Lawmakers Press Obama Administration for Local Input in Treaty’s Future

Washington, D.C. – Today, all 26 lawmakers representing Washington, Oregon, Montana, and Idaho urged President Obama to make the future of the 1964 Columbia River Treaty a priority for 2014. In a letter led by Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Doc Hastings (R-WA), and House Natural Resources Committee Ranking Member Peter DeFazio (D-OR), the 26 lawmakers highlighted the importance of the Columbia River Treaty and asked the Administration to take direct action on this issue by mid-year 2014, as called for in a recent regional recommendation led by the Bonneville Power Administration and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

“It is essential that the Administration now advance this work through discussions with Canada to ensure that a post-2024 Treaty better reflects the interests of our constituents in the region and the United States as a whole. As you convene an Interagency Policy Committee on the Recommendation, we draw your attention to the Recommendation’s clear call for a decision and action by the Administration on this matter by mid-year,” wrote Members in the letter.

Members also underscored the importance of the Obama Administration to be open and transparent in the treaty negotiations with Canada and for the Administration to consider input from Northwest lawmakers and regional stakeholders as the process moves forward.

“The Columbia River provides significant economic and cultural benefits to our region and how it is managed through the Treaty will have major impacts into the future. Therefore, it is important that you remain in regular and close communication with the Pacific Northwest Congressional Delegation during the Interagency Policy Committee process and keep us apprised of potential negotiations with Canada. In addition, we encourage the Administration to remain open to input from and engagement with concerned regional stakeholders, many of whom have valuable expertise in managing the Columbia River and played an integral role in developing the Recommendation.”

For fifty years, the Columbia River Treaty between the United States and Canada has provided the framework for coordinated hydropower generation and flood control on the Columbia River system.  Starting this year, either side can seek to terminate the Treaty with ten years notice, prompting a renewed look at the Treaty in the United States and Canada. The regional review led by the Bonneville Power Administration and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers resulted in the “Regional Recommendation for the Future of the Columbia River Treaty after 2024,” which was delivered to the Administration for further action in December 2013. (To view the “Regional Recommendation for the Future of the Columbia River Treaty after 2024,” click here.)

Click here to view the letter.

The full list of signatories is below:

U.S. Senate: Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Sen. Mike Crapo (R-ID), Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA), Sen. Jim Risch (R-ID), Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT), Sen. John Walsh (D-MT), and Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR)

U.S. House: Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Rep. Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR), Rep. Steve Daines (R-MT), Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-OR), Rep. Suzan DelBene (D-WA), Rep. Doc Hastings (R-WA), Rep. Denny Heck (D-WA), Rep. Jamie Herrera Beutler (R-WA), Rep. Derek Kilmer  (D-WA), Rep. Raul Labrador (R-ID), Rep. Rick Larsen (D-WA), Rep. Jim McDermott (D-WA), Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA), Rep. Dave Reichert  (R-WA), Rep. Mike Simpson (R-ID), Rep. Kurt Schrader (D-OR), Rep. Adam Smith (D-WA), and Rep. Greg Walden (R-OR)