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Skagit River Hydro Project Relicensing Update

Seattle City Light continues working toward preparing to submit an application for the relicensing of the Skagit River Hydroelectric Project. Even as we move forward through the relicensing process and start the field studies that will help us be good stewards of the natural and cultural resources of the Skagit River, City Light is preparing to ask and answer even bigger questions about the future of the dams.

First, the good news on the studies. On July 16, 2021, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) approved Seattle City Light’s study plans. This is a series of studies that Seattle City Light will conduct to understand and address the environmental effects of the three-dam system.

Visit the Skagit Hydroelectric Project Relicensing Page for more on the study areas.

FERC’s study plan determination includes some modifications to some of the proposed studies, which City Light will be making; it also details what studies are not required by FERC as part of the license. (City Light-submitted studies will still be completed as part of our commitments to our partners, even if they are not required by FERC.) Scientists are already going into the field to do this research, and it will be exciting to see what we learn.

Second, the good news on future planning. In our engagement with license participants, the question of removing Gorge Dam has been raised. The impacts of such a decision are large and complex, and FERC determined that a dam removal study is not warranted. Gorge Dam and the entire Skagit Hydroelectric Project are a vital component of our strategy toward a clean, carbon-free energy future.

However, the question of when a dam should be removed is an important one. Infrastructure becomes outdated; climate disruption changes environmental conditions; and new energy technologies emerge. Dams also provide functions important to downriver communities, including water supply and flood control. We also understand the importance of the issues to Tribes.

We cannot wait until the end of a 30- or 50-year license to take up these complex issues.

After listening to license participants and examining the regulatory options, City Light is committing to complete a comprehensive decommissioning assessment that answers the question “Should we consider removing any or all of the dams on the Skagit?” This assessment is a way for us—as a utility and as a city—to better understand whether the retirement and removal of any of these dams should be studied in greater detail right now.

The assessment we will be using is a standard tool developed by a federal interagency taskforce to help utilities and FERC ask and answer this kind of question. Seattle City Light will seek the input of the license participants and be transparent in its development of this assessment; we are also committed to repeating this assessment periodically through the life of the next license.

It’s possible that our assessment conclusions will be similar to FERC’s, indicating that a dam removal study isn’t needed right now. Whether the assessment triggers more immediate studies or not, we shouldn’t wait another 40 years to revisit the topic. The world is changing quickly – climate impacts, technological innovations and changing customer demands creates the need to repeat this assessment before the end of the next license. For our ratepayers, this assessment allows us to be more attuned in the future and is part of our obligation as a responsible utility.