The Board of Directors of Oregon Trail Electric Cooperative has decided to absorb the extra costs produced by a court-mandated decision to spill more water over Snake and Columbia river dams.

In April, BPA – where OTEC buys 99.5 percent of its electric power – estimated power bills across the Northwest would increase by $40 million for each year the court mandated the spill. However, the BPA instituted a series of cost-saving measures to reduce that cost to $10.2 million in 2018. That means OTEC’s costs for the year will stand around $150,000, allowing the cooperative’s board of directors the flexibility to not to pass this cost on to its members by reducing the amount of capital credits that may be returned at the end of the year.

That means members of the Eastern Oregon utility will not see a spike in their bills this year. However, price hikes in power bills could be on the horizon.

“It appears to be a one-year reprieve for a five-year problem,” said Anthony Bailey, OTEC’s chief financial officer. “It is possible that next year our members may see a larger than usual rate increase to make up for costs not fully recovered in the previous year.”

The decision to spill more water over dams on the region’s biggest waterways was mandated by U.S. Appellate Judge Michael Simon because of a concern not enough was being done to protect endangered fish. More water spilled over the dams is intended to help young salmon migrating to the ocean. The spill program was to begin in 2017 but was delayed until this year. It is projected to continue until 2022.

The decision impacts the Bonneville Power Administration – which markets wholesale electrical power produced by the dams on the two rivers – and power companies and cooperatives that buy a large share of their power from the BPA. The dams are operated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Bureau of Reclamation.

“We encourage members to contact their U.S. representatives and make their voices heard,” said OTEC Chief Executive Officer and General Manager Les Penning. “It’s not over yet. That’s why people need to get involved to help put a stop to this and to end the waste of our members’ money and the millions of dollars in lost generation. The battle is still on.”