During the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission relicensing process for Puget Sound Energy’s 170-MW Baker River project, representatives of 24 groups worked collaboratively for five years to determine the best use of the water resource. The principles of interaction used in the Baker River process can be adapted for other projects.
By Cary L. Feldmann with Lyn L. Wiltse
The 170-MW Baker River Project in Washington State consists of two developments: 91-MW Upper Baker and 79-MW Lower Baker. The project was constructed in two phases, one in 1925 and the other in 1959. About 5,200 acres of the 8,500 acres of total project lands (including submerged lands) are within the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest.
In 1956, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) issued a 50-year license for the project. In 2004, owner Puget Sound Energy (PSE) filed an application for a new license (relicense). Four years later, in October 2008, FERC issued a new 50-year license. PSE estimates it will spend $360 million to meet provisions of the new license and operate the project.
The new license includes approval to build a 30-MW powerhouse as part of the Lower Baker Development, as well as extensive requirements to improve systems for moving salmon around both dams in the project. One system, a floating surface collector on Lake Shannon (the reservoir impounded by Upper Baker Dam), began operating in the spring of 2008 to collect juvenile salmon for transport downstream to the Skagit River.
When PSE began the relicensing process in 1999, there was, as there is in many multi-party interactions, a history of distrust and sometimes antagonism among the participants. Overcoming these concerns allowed the successful progression toward a final settlement agreement. This agreement, filed as part of the relicense application, contained 50 recommended articles for FERC to include as license conditions. All elements of the settlement are incorporated in the new license.
In this article, we provide observations about working with a diverse group of stakeholders to create something enduring for the greater good.
A review of the settlement process
When PSE began the settlement process, the first step was to reduce fear and suspicion. PSE demonstrated and promoted open and free expression, with respect as an essential element to gain trust. The utility included a discussion of project decommissioning that resulted in participants agreeing the downside of decommissioning was greater than the perceived upside. The discussion freed participants to address the question of “how” rather than “whether” to license the project.
Participants chose to follow FERC’s alternative licensing process (ALP). Choosing the ALP, as opposed to FERC’s traditional licensing process, signified participants believed they could accomplish more together than as separate stakeholders.
Throughout the ALP, open dialogue was encouraged as a way of truly understanding the interests (deeply held needs, fears, and concerns) of others at the table. PSE continually reinforced the belief that it is only through acknowledgement and exploration of our diversity that we can discover the underlying commonality that bonds us.
Participants were encouraged to be intentional and positive with the words they used. For example, they were to replace “buts” with “ands” and to avoid use of aggressive language such as “attacking” a problem or position. For example, “I don’t disagree with you but…” was rephrased as, “I agree with you and…” Gradually, participants came to believe more in the future they were co-creating than in the past, when many of them had been locked in conflict over other issues.
PSE employed a common settlement framework:
- Solution group (for resolution);
- Resource groups (for study formation and proposal development);
- Legal team (for document drafting); and
- Policy team (disputes and final decisions).
However, the utility discarded the traditional model of administration, believing a less applicant-dominated atmosphere would produce a result that would stand the test of time. PSE’s actions reflected a perspective that an emphasis on teamwork would ultimately carry things further than would knowledge about licensing or FERC in resolving complex issues (e.g., historical conflicts among participants, limited time and attention participants were able to devote to the process, and competing versions of “best available science”). Consequently, the utility employed a facilitator/educator with substantial training in team-building and performance techniques.
From the outset, participants were guided toward forming their own rules of meeting conduct and open information-sharing. This created a sense of ownership and reduced potential “us against them” distractions. Each group created a mission statement and proceeded only after members agreed their interests were understood by all. While this was time-consuming, it provided a vital foundation for the collaborative process.
Members demonstrated their understanding of each other’s interests by paraphrasing back — to the satisfaction of each member — the nature of their interest and the underlying reason for it. It was important to assume that behind each interest was a noble intent, as opposed to a selfish and wavering position. That allowed members to listen other with openness rather than defensiveness and supported the universal operating norm of treating each other with trust and respect. Understanding is a necessary precursor to truly respecting another’s interest.
Each group also defined its own operating norms to ensure meetings were efficient and effective. Operating norms are both logistical and social in nature. They included a consensus model for decision making, use of a “parking lot” (a list of related issues that arise in discussion that distract from meeting topics, for future discussion) and definition of the next meeting’s agenda at the end of each meeting. Brief evaluations at the end of each meeting by participants identified what went well, as well as what to do differently at the next meeting.
Examples of social norms included keeping an open mind, listening deeply and having fun. Members often remarked that, when they found themselves double-booked, they elected to attend the Baker River meeting because they were certain it would be fun as well as productive! The working group norms reflected the personality and desires of the group that defined them. Table 1 contains a list of some commonly used norms.
Most groups met monthly. Calendars were set well in advance, increasing the likelihood of strong attendance. Technical “teamlets” were formed as needed to research something and/or come up with a recommendation for the larger group to discuss/approve. This helped fast track progress and served to reinforce the concept of shared ownership. PSE reserved conference call lines for meetings in case participants needed to attend by phone.
The availability of food, such as Krispy Kreme doughnuts, during meetings permitted continuous participation and kept discussion on track without disruption for prolonged breaks. Breaking bread together helped build trust, relieved tension and retained focus and energy for working effectively together.
To increase the sense of shared ownership of the process and the resulting settlement, PSE was intentional about the following:
- After the resource groups began exploring key issues, PSE sponsored a day-long course taught by Agreement Dynamics, a conflict resolution organization, in which participants learned about collaborative problem-solving and communication styles. This provided a common language and foundation for moving ahead together and allowed participants to better appreciate the strength of a diverse team.
- Meetings were held away from corporate facilities, allowing “ownership” opportunities to extend to hosting parties and “level the playing field.”
- Meeting notes were kept “real time” by the facilitator, agreed to by participants during each meeting. This eliminated disagreements about what had transpired at each meeting and how it was documented. Minutes were disseminated within a few days by team leaders (PSE employees), who acted as hubs for information exchange and logistical support.
- Participants were invited to suggest and ultimately approved the facilitators and contractors who would be working to support the process.
- PSE honored the operating norms established by each group.
PSE was intentional about bringing FERC into the process early on. This proved to be very helpful. For example, FERC representatives suggested lumping together “protection, mitigation, and enhancement” initiatives under the umbrella of “PME.” Taking that advice helped free participants from having to agree on the category of an action and allowed a common focus on the action itself. We were fortunate to have consistent FERC representation at the solution/policy team level throughout the process.
Adapting the process to meet FERC’s goals was vital. We all listened carefully to the counsel and direction FERC staff offered. To ignore the insights would have resulted in additional information requests, potential rejection of the application and some or all of the settlement features, delays, and cost exposure. The result would have been fragmentation of the collaboration we were building.
From 1999 to 2004, PSE convened more than 400 meetings to support the relicensing effort. These meetings yielded more than 1,200 pages of application, environmental assessment, and settlement documents and 83,000 pages of studies at a cost of about $15 million.
Many of the lessons learned were intuitive, and, as we paced through the process, we relearned some important lessons. Indeed, the hardest lessons are often the ones we thought we already knew!
Below are some of the most important lessons we learned. These include several fundamentally reproducible principles of interaction and all rest on the belief that, together, we can co-create something enduring for the greater good.
The foundation supports the house. The foundation of a house is one of the least attractive but most necessary features. It provides the boundaries and strength for the more elegant and visible construction that follows. Improperly planned or constructed, a faulty foundation inhibits the rest of the construction or may even need to be rebuilt. In the same way, basic principles about licensing provide the strength and boundaries for the activities and implementation that follow. Establishing attainable goals and having competent staff and contractors working with a realistic strategy improves the likelihood of a successful and satisfying outcome. The underlying principles relating to comprehensive preparation and execution of a licensing strategy are instrumental in preserving the integrity of the process and reducing economic exposure over the long term.
Think comprehensively. Capturing the vision of the finished product (a functional 50-year license) is vital to continuity and balance. A commonly held comprehensive vision provides a focus for working together. Conversely, a temporal plan to achieve a quickly or ill-conceived agreement risks unraveling at a cost much higher than a methodical consensus-based planning effort early on.
Compose a strong strategy. An understanding of the political and societal perspectives on hydropower and the Baker River project in particular, combined with conceptualizing possible outcomes, served as a backdrop against which a strategy for working together was formed. This review helped us to identify preferred options with specific milestones and expectations for success.
Acquire competent staff and contractors. Our licensing staff and contractors were selected based on technical competence and familiarity with regional resources, personal and professional integrity, organizational skills and the ability to work with a diverse group of people. Our in-house staff worked closely with these contractors to establish transparency and assure participants that reliable information would be available to assist in decision-making.
|Members of the collaboration team for the 170-MW Baker River Project relicensing celebrated the settlement by taking a raft trip down the Skagit River to view bald eagles.|
Remind contractors they work for the licensee while serving the needs of all stakeholders. Our contractors had such rapport and credibility that stakeholders frequently forgot the contractors were employed by PSE. And the contractors, caught up in the pleasure of collaborative endeavors, were tempted at times to take direction off-line from stakeholders and expand the agreed-upon scope of work. Frequent discussions of work scope with a flexible view to assignments permitted opportunities to enhance stakeholder ownership in the process. Consequently, the contractors were able to contribute to solutions that were acceptable to the stakeholders and might have been rejected if offered by the company.
Provide an adequate budget. Success hinges on a realistic budget appropriately spent. Delay in licensing to avoid costs technically is an option but usually is a poor choice because studies cannot be properly scoped to contain costs. We evaluated the “added” cost of the engagement process as compared to years of litigation and instability and elected to spend more early on to demonstrate good faith and minimize long-term costs.
Above all, know thyself. While it is vital to assess strengths and weakness of individuals and projects, it is more important for the licensee to understand the interest (deeply held core values) of its own organization before engaging in negotiations. Consequently, PSE conducted a detailed assessment of the energy portfolio in relation to the Baker River project to identify what needed to be accomplished in this license undertaking. “Securing a license” was an insufficiently descriptive goal. It was important to know what the license would do for us and what cost we were willing to pay to obtain it.
Properly assess and communicate your “corporate interest(s).” PSE, like other licensees, needed to deeply consider our basic interests and core values. As a private utility, we primarily exist to make a profit. We could have expressed an interest statement similar to that of stakeholders to appear more like them. Ancillary interests, including environmental responsibility and/or providing a valuable service to the community, are fundamental to the PSE business ethic but are not central to the project existence. Licensees who blur the line can be accused of hypocrisy when they express an environmental perspective as a “core interest” when it is, in reality, a byproduct of a core interest and thus could be severely altered if the primary core interest could not be met.
Know your financial perspective inside and out. We regularly assessed our financial exposure to understand the effect of our licensing efforts on the overall affordability of the project. All items — including flow costs, operational modifications, and environmental measures — were tracked. Detailed understanding of temporal and long-term financial status promotes credible firmness in discussion of options and facilitates creativity in response alternatives. We have subsequently found that many project owners do not conduct detailed pro forma analyses. There is enough uncertainty in future financial conditions to suggest that those who fail to understand what can be known are at a serious disadvantage when negotiating and often end up either agreeing to something they later wish they hadn’t or rejecting an offer that could have promoted a better outcome.
Know what it would take to reject a new license. As a bottom line, PSE determined at what point we would be willing to walk away from the project. In our case, it was the cost we could justify compared to taking the license to a contested proceeding balanced by how the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission might view a settlement. This approach permitted a rational assessment of alternatives and allowed stakeholders insight into our bottom line. While our preference was to put money directly into services on the ground, some stakeholders sought studies in exchange for measures. Allowing stakeholders to know the bottom line aided decision-making around tangible measures and kept the focus on funding studies that would lead to actionable results.
The speed of the boss is the speed of the team. A team that proceeds beyond the understanding and agreement of its management exposes the organization to additional costs for delay and rework, not to mention the appearance of indecisiveness or lack of leadership as the process is put on hold to bring the decision-maker up to speed. It permits the stakeholders to improvise stories as to why the indecision or delay exists. This erodes trust. It is important to be unified, not just appear to be, to avoid unexpected delay in or derailment of the proceedings.
Keep upper management on track. Strategic ability in licensing is based on upper management having a full and frequent appraisal of the process and progress. As new information became available and positional changes occurred, a tight organizational chassis allowed for quick responses to licensing curves, obstacles, and speed bumps.
In-house, PSE held weekly strategic and tactical meetings to discuss issues and plans for the next few weeks, within the context of the long-term vision. The strategy team involved the licensing project management team, plus legal and public relations support. The technical staff was kept well-informed during tactical meetings that included discussions of progress, problems, and assignments across resource areas as well as assessments of any “good” rumors, such as a stakeholder belief that the company “has money to burn in order to get this license” or “one stakeholder is in dispute with another and would use this process to further their own goals.” Frequent reports were made to ensure strategic agility. This was demonstrated by careful but rapid responses to potential scenarios while confirming management direction for the team.
Utilize upper management for correct effect. While upper management input to strategy was frequent, we utilized their physical presence sparingly to maintain the power of position. Because most of the interactions occurred among technical staff, it was important to differentiate roles. When upper management was brought in to speak, it was to make a deal that was binding. The stakeholders held that position in high esteem. PSE also ensured that upper management presented a consistent face to process participants. This helped with trust and relationship building.
Designate a sponsor as liaison between policy and technical staff. The sponsor, or representative at large, was a position PSE initiated part way into the licensing process to translate policy direction to the technical working groups on an ongoing basis, allowing staff to focus on technical issues. The author played this role to provide continuity across all groups and continues this role today in implementation activities.
The sponsor fulfilled four functions:
- Provided assurance to technical groups that their concerns were being heard at the management level, while giving feedback direction to focus the process on items that had viability for a long-term license.
- Provided leverage to the licensee to contain costs because we could honestly say, “I don’t think we can afford that with everything else. If another group will be able to give, we should be able to get there.”
- Served as the necessary backup for technical staff when they were being questioned by skeptical stakeholders.
- Provided oversight to make sure we did not end up with conflicting conditions or competing articles when viewed from the resource perspective.
Fools rush in where fools have been before
Bad assumptions can plague a settlement discussion. Here are some of the most common we experienced:
— Don’t assume you understand other stakeholder interests. We took extra time to understand what drove stakeholders. We asked the same question many times and in many ways to fully understand what compelled them to action.
— Don’t assume other stakeholders understand your interests or expectations. Simple and accurate licensee interest statements are essential for credibility. Understanding of each other’s interests is colored by filters of personal experience and expectations and can precipitate erroneous conclusions about others as assumptions are exchanged for facts. For example, a stakeholder with a responsibility to preserve, protect and enhance the environment (ostensibly at any cost) may assume the licensee’s staff or consulting biologist will have the same interest (value and responsibility). This was experienced when stakeholders asked, “Don’t you have an environmental interest for this project?” While it is true that our ethical standards promote those values, the responsibility for protection and enhancement of the resource rested with others. PSE’s responsibility was to use technical capabilities to explore ways to meet interests expressed by others. Unmanaged expectations could lead to disillusionment, accusations of hypocrisy and cynicism about the process.
We avoided much of the disillusionment through a consistent explanation that environmental issues are ancillary to PSE’s core interest: an affordable project. From the outset, we were consistently honest about our financial interest without trying to cloak it in a veil of environmental “soft-speak.” At first, this elicited incredulity. But this consistency brought about acceptance and credibility because it was simple and understandable and provided a benchmark.
|The 170-MW Baker River Project in Washington successfully received a new Federal Energy Regulatory Commission operating license. The lessons learned during the process can prove valuable for other hydro project owners.|
— Don’t assume stakeholders understand their own interests. Many stakeholders think they understand their interests but may not. It is vital to provide mechanisms for them to discover (if necessary) and describe their interests as carefully as possible to avoid future conflict. Many stakeholders confuse their personal reasons for working for the group they represent with the interests of the group. We encouraged stakeholders to check back with the “home office” to clarify and refine their interest statements to get to the heart of the matter.
— Don’t overlook unspoken interests. No one would declare institutional revenge or compensation for past grievance as an interest. But, it may be unspoken and remain a driving interest that must be identified and addressed. We were careful to be alert to potentially unresolved historical issues because, unrecognized or ignored, they might have become source of frustration and decay to the process. This illustrates the need to build bridges throughout a license rather than burning them for temporary gain.
— Never attribute to malice what can be adequately explained by another motivation. Intentionally assigning an honorable motive is vital to seeking the high road. Even if a posture, position, passion or personality seems offensive or aggressive, resist the temptation to assign ill will or take it personally. You might be mistaken. By giving others the benefit of the doubt, you are creating time and space to really understand and evaluate the spectrum of possibilities.
— Count on disruptions to the process. Leadership will emerge in the absence of leadership, for good or bad. Disruptors can sense a lack of leadership and exercise their own. It is essential to assume a high profile of leadership and reinforce collective ownership of the process. This helps protect the process from disruptors. Always take the high road and show how it is in the group’s best interest to pursue the same. A side benefit of disruptors is that their actions can actually increase the sense of ownership participants feel and unite them in an effort to protect their agreements. We found that bad actors quickly marginalized themselves from other participants and thereby lost their power of influence.
— Don’t interpret acquiescence as support. Silence is not golden. We continued to clarify and probe to secure adoption of difficult solutions until we had universal agreement to move forward
Build bridges so you can keep crossing them
In the haste to accomplish a goal, a short-term view may precipitate “sacrifices” to achieve closure at the expense of personal relationships, professional credibility or positional strength. These burned bridges may initially serve expediency but will, over the long term, anchor to your name a legacy of offense that may be resurrected in expensive retaliation.
We found it is best to create opportunities for the stakeholder community to build and repair many strong bridges of communication and cooperative action and to douse opportunities to ignite shaky structures that would otherwise be rationalized as unimportant. Those weak routes of movement may be the only means of escape if other stronger (more traditional) routes are blocked. For example, PSE refused to sign a settlement that excluded certain parties that were traditionally left out of discussions although “settlement” could have been achieved more quickly.
Engaging competent facilitation. We sought to build bridges at every turn, beginning with facilitation. PSE recognized that the real goal of facilitation for this process was the ability to transform diverse interests into a working team rather than an assembly of semi-tolerant adversaries.
Our facilitator selection of Lyn Wiltse was based on her process improvement and team-building skills coupled with enthusiasm to keep the group focused and motivated. Lyn formed trusting relationships with participants. She was the official note-taker for the working groups and continually summarized where the working groups were in terms of knowledge gained through studies and reminded them of the questions they were attempting to answer.
When we began to draft the settlement agreement, we engaged support facilitation from Agreement Dynamics (Dee Endelman) to help frame the agreements and serve as backup for contingency situations. Lyn and Dee co-facilitated the policy team meetings that created the content for the initial agreement in principle that was transformed into the final settlement agreement.
Pamela Kruger served as facilitator for the attorney working group. Pamela formerly was with the law firm Perkins Coie, PSE’s attorney for the relicense, and is now with the Washington Attorney General’s office. She was able to work effectively and consistently with the collaborative relicensing process that had been nurtured over the previous four years, while representing the legal interests of PSE. Pamela’s understanding of the various interests and her ability to translate them into legal language that satisfied all stakeholders proved invaluable. Insufficient or inadequate facilitation often creates a situation where none of the parties are able to properly express their interests due to fear of being not heard, misunderstood and/or disrespected. A strong team-building style of facilitation throughout the process creates a balanced atmosphere for open and honest discussion and resolution.
Synergy through collaboration. Collaboration is often viewed as an expense. We experienced it as a privilege, as we believed every participant in our process brought special capabilities to the table. For example, one non-governmental organization (NGO) specifically requested language in the settlement that, if PSE did not have enough money to accomplish a specific task, the NGO would be afforded the opportunity to contribute.
The future is in networks, not regulation. The traditional interactive “economy” for licensing was based on regulatory processes. The new “economy” thrives on a network of relationships among apparently disparate interests all working to accomplish a common aim. In the traditional model, not all participants have equal weight in terms of legal standing. It is beneficial to the collaborative process to minimize these differences. We are seeing again and again that many of our successes are developed with the assistance of, if not integral participation from, parties that had previously been excluded from regulatory proceedings.
Know when to stand your ground. It is important to be able to articulate your interests from a firm foundation and in a credible manner. If you haven’t conducted a “know thyself” exercise, it will be difficult to state your limits for certain. Stakeholders can recognize a bluff or positional insecurity and will test your conviction, as they have the right to in a “transparent” process. However, if you know where you are able to go, you have the freedom and conviction to state it clearly and then confidently explore new solutions others have not considered.
Understand basic human motivation: desire for gain, fear of loss. Because people make interest-based decisions at a visceral level, we found that it was vital to understand what the stakeholders desired and feared. This expedited the process for resolving issues. Some may not fully understand their own motivations and therefore will require more time or assistance to gain understanding.
Leverage credibility. We were able to create strategic alliances with key stakeholders. These linkages gave us additional insights to blend interests and increase momentum. We were able to align proposals to share interests with other stakeholders. For example, when the fisheries agencies understood our project economics and associated constraints (after PSE conducted a “Utility Economics 101” tutorial), they looked for ways to defray costs to permit their options to proceed. With an intimate knowledge of the financial implications (net present value) of deferred installation (i.e., expensive resource measures), options that satisfied all parties were realized.
|To commemorate the settlement for the 170-MW Baker River Project relicensing, members of the collaboration team hand painted and signed individual tiles for a large mosaic. It is currently on display in the lobby of the Puget Sound Energy headquarters.|
Share the ownership: have at least one other strong advocate for you in the group of stakeholders. Licensees are traditionally aligned against all other stakeholders at the outset. It is helpful to be intentional about breaking with this tradition. Consumer advocates or other participants who are concerned about the cost of power can voice unpopular positions that align with the licensee. One stakeholder frequently asked, “How much would that cost?” a reality check for the process. Another routinely requested stakeholders who were proponents of extraneous studies or features to show the nexus of their proposal to the project.
The loudest critic will often hold a key solution. Standing firm can cause you to lose your balance in negotiations. A more strategic discipline employs a “Judo-type” of logic, transforming the strength wielded by those with other interests to the group’s advantage. Often, extreme positions that do not take into account interests of others collapse under their own weight. And sometimes elements within extreme positions can be integrated into broader interest-based solutions. We found that some strong positions, such as decommissioning the project, were quickly disposed of by non-project stakeholders who had evaluated environmental cost as well as the likely outcome of federal control of the process to conclude they were better off dealing with the license face up.
Winning argues for rigidity; flexibility precedes success
Winning implies strength of force to “vanquish the opposition,” with the bravado of a high-five and “You’re the man!” to follow. Flexibility suggests a strategy of adaptive resilience and bending to find a route around obstacles rather than through them. While either perspective can produce “success,” we believe that creative, satisfying, and enduring solutions are more likely in all-win situations than those with win-lose.
Making licensing “fun” (work + engagement = productivity). Licensing with energy, vision, and hope can create an environment where genuine fun is possible. We experienced an exhilarating engagement by participants, resulting in trust and a focus on productivity. Discussions revealed an extraordinary degree of openness and joy in all our groups. In fact, diverse groups of stakeholders were observed going out for a “preliminary draft” beer after some long or multi-day meetings focused on document writing.
Win the spirit, not the argument. We have come to realize the underlying health of licenses is based on relationships. Stakeholder groups with brief contractual interactions focused on expediency often are filled with buyer’s remorse, resulting in years of looking for loopholes and attempts to renegotiate. “Peace in the valley” is best preserved by enduring relationships that were forged through recognition of long-term interests.
Acknowledge and celebrate little “victories.” Sharing and celebrating accomplishments with all parties generated energy and created bonds. Beyond celebrating licensing-related goals, we celebrated birthdays, suffered with illnesses, and, in one case, mourned the death of a stakeholder. Throughout the five years and more than 400 meetings in support of the relicense process, intimate and lasting relationships were formed. This genuine caring for the overall well-being of the team and its membership engendered a determination by all to stay the course, stick together, and reach the finish line.
In the end, we acquired a healthy respect for these lessons. They gave us insights to a more dynamic method to reach an enduring settlement. We are confident this work has provided a firm foundation for a viable license and, more importantly, long-term relationships with those who significantly influence our business success.
While there was confidence that the majority of the settlement agreement was consistent with well-established FERC precedent, there were features that the parties acknowledged were not generally preferred by FERC. An example was financial commitments to assist stakeholder facilities or programs tangentially related to the project or habitat acquisition that could not be clearly associated with project impact. PSE determined that the settlement was an important expression of the commitment we made not only to project continuity but also to the participants and their constituents. To demonstrate the integrity of this intention, PSE expressed unwavering commitment to the integrity of the entire settlement whether or not FERC adopted it in its entirety. Stakeholders were somewhat incredulous at the tenacity with which this assurance was made. Our rationale was that our settlement is a statement of our long-standing pledge to resource protection and the settlement parties for 50 years. We were confident that it was the right thing to do.
This expression was punctuated by a commitment to initiate implementation of some important features for resource enhancement in advance of license issuance. One of these early implementation projects, the Upper Baker floating surface collector, received the 2009 Outstanding Stewards of America’s Waters award from the National Hydropower Association.
The cost obligation for the 50-year settlement is $360 million. While the exposure is substantial, the value-to-cost ratio of this resource in the PSE energy portfolio was justifiable and well less than the avoided cost for next available sources of replacement energy. Could PSE have achieved the license more cheaply? Perhaps, but not likely and certainly not with the assured party commitment we continue to enjoy.
The next 50 years
At the time of license issuance, FERC adopted the settlement en toto. The license was uncontested and implementation has begun. PSE and our settlement partners have initiated all aspects of the settlement, having collaboratively developed and submitted formal implementation plans for dozens of articles. In addition to the floating surface collector, the team has designed and constructed a new fish propagation facility and an adult salmon upstream passage facility. And PSE has initiated other programs to enhance fish populations in the basin. The result of all these efforts is represented in record fish runs. A new powerhouse is in planning to permit recovery of energy that would otherwise be lost to minimum flows.
Terrestrial enhancements also are under way with features for bird enhancement, botanical programs and habitat acquisitions. Like the fish facilities above, a number of these programs were initiated after settlement signing and in advance of license issuance.
Recreation enhancements are occurring with active engagement from interested stakeholders. As many features of the Baker River Project and its fisheries legacy are significant historically, our cultural and historical resource group has been active to preserve the legacy while permitting the advance of technology.
Collaboration continues. Resource groups meet frequently to reap the implementation fruit planted by signing of the settlement. We continue to provide facilitation for these meetings. Participants periodically review and revise meeting operating norms to reinforce the sense of team and consensus decision-making as new members come aboard. Dispute resolution has not been tested, and consensus continues to be the expectation. Recently, a meeting participant, recalling all we have accomplished and how, teared up and shared that this process was a life-changing event. Were the cost, effort, and time worth it? Absolutely!
Settlement Policy Team Members (when the settlement agreement was signed)
Steve Fransen, NOAA Fisheries
Gary Sprague and Bob Everitt, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife
Gene Stagner, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Jon Vanderheyden and Rod Mace, USDA-Forest Service
Stan Walsh, Skagit River System Cooperative
Scott Schuyler and Doreen Maloney, Upper Skagit Indian Tribe
Jason Joseph and Laurence Joseph, Sauk Suiattle Indian Tribe
Lorraine Loomis, Swinomish Tribal Community
Arn Thoreen, Skagit Fisheries Enhancement Group
Bob Nelson, Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation
Len Barson, The Nature Conservancy
David Roberts and Steve Jennison, Washington Department of Natural Resources
Jerry Louthian, City of Anacortes and Skagit County Public Utility District
Patrick Goldsworthy, North Cascades Conservation Council
Jim Eychaner, Interagency Committee for Outdoor Recreation
Bill Reinard, Wildcat Steelhead Club
Dave Brookings and Chal Martin, Skagit County Public Works Department
Chuck Ebel and Marian Valentine, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
Ray Hellwig, Bob Wright, and Rod Sakrison (now deceased), Washington Department of Ecology
John Rantschler and Jack Billman, Town of Concrete
William Palek, National Park Service
Saul Weisberg, North Cascades Institute
Bob Helton, Private Citizen
Arnie Aspelund, Tony Fuchs, Connie Freeland, Andy Hatfield, Jessie Piper, Nick Verretto, and Pamela Krueger (Perkins Coie), Puget Sound Energy resource group leaders
Ed Schild, Kris Olin, Joel Molander, Cary Feldmann, and Eric Markell, Puget Sound Energy management
Kendall Cammermeyer, Puget Sound Energy legal
Dee Endelman, Agreement Dynamics, facilitator
Lyn Wiltse, PDSA Consulting, facilitator
Cary Feldmann is manager of resource sciences with Puget Sound Energy, owner of the Baker River project. Feldmann provided technical expertise as a biologist, licensing experience, and policy representation for Puget Sound Energy. Lyn Wiltse provided facilitation and training services for process improvement, meeting structure and conduct, documentation, dialogue, and mediation support.