NYT – Along the West Coast of the United States, the Northwest has always used the most power in the winter, to provide heat when during cold weather, and the Southwest has always used the most in the summer, for air conditioning. Much of this power comes from huge hydroelectric dams in the Pacific Northwest. But this year, federal officials have ordered the Northwest to give up some of its precious power in order to stave off more blackouts in California. This is causing power problems to spread across the West. State officials are worried about possible electricity shortages, higher utility rates and environmental problems.

Low rainfall in the Northwest means that there are lower than normal water levels in the reservoirs. There have already been problems with thousands of salmon eggs that have been left exposed, and demands for extra power in the South would worsen the situation, effecting salmon fishing.

The situation is also exacerbating the tensions that already exist between states in the area. “We are really at risk of having the state of California and its energy problems drag the rest of us down with it,” said Governor John Kitzhaber of Oregon, “?Obviously, the big dog on the block is California.” He blamed the problem on California?s failed deregulation experiment that began 4 years ago, which was supposed to guarantee cheaper utility rates. There are even rumors that the shortage been created on purpose by private business in order to increase profits.

“I?d liken it to strains on a pretty good marriage,” said Bob Royer, of Seattle City Light. Due to hydroelectric power, his area used to have what seemed like a cheap and inexhaustible amount of electricity. But population in the state is rising, and utility companies now have to be aware of environmental concerns, such as the salmon in local rivers, which are on the Endangered Species list.

Tacoma Power in Washington State said it might have to add an 86% surcharge to residential utility bills. The Public Utility Commission in Oregon has asked to raise electrical bills 13%. This is certain to fuel even more resentment in these states towards their neighbors to the south.

Source: The New York Times, Dec. 17, 2000

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