Bad ideas can be stopped, especially when opposed by both parties in Congress.
That it’s an election year may have helped unify the opposition, as was the fact that Washington state residents would have likely seen higher electric bills if the bad idea was adopted.
Broad-based opposition among Washington state’s congressional delegation, as well as that from other Northwest states, appears to have convinced the Trump administration to abandon plans that would have sold off the Bonneville Power Administration and three other federally owned power authorities in the U.S.
Washington state Democrats and Republicans were united in their opposition this year to the proposal, as reported last week by The Herald’s Noah Haglund.
An agency of the federal Department of Energy, the BPA was created by Congress in 1937, following construction of the Grand Coulee and Bonneville hydroelectric dams on the Columbia River. It’s now responsible for 31 federally managed dams and a power-generating reactor at Hanford. The electricity generated is sent over a high-voltage transmission system that covers 300,000 square miles in the Northwest by way of more than 15,000 miles of power lines and nearly 300 substations. The BPA manages about 75 percent of the high-voltage lines in the Northwest, serving 12.5 million residents in Washington, Oregon, Idaho and parts of Montana.
The Snohomish Public Utility District is one of about 150 public and private utilities that purchase electricity from BPA for their ratepayers, which is why it wasn’t difficult to generate opposition to the plan to sell of the BPA’s transmission system for a one-time cash infusion of an estimated $4.9 billion to the federal treasury over the next 10 years.
With the BPA in corporate hands, there would have been less control over electrical rate increases charged to public utility districts and other customers as the focus shifted to maximizing profits and keeping shareholders happy.
The sell-off has been proposed before and was floated by the Trump administration a year ago in its first budget proposal. It was rejected then, but without the Energy Department’s agreement to stop pursuing privatization. That came last week, following several congressional hearings where lawmakers from the Northwest and elsewhere urged Energy Secretary Rick Perry to drop the bid to sell off BPA and three other similar federal energy agencies.
Late last week, a spokeswoman for Perry told the Washington Examiner that the Trump administration “will not pursue the sale of any … transmission assets unless directed by Congress.”
Beyond homeowners, privatization of the transmission system also was seen as a threat to the affordable energy that industries have enjoyed in Washington state and the rest of the Northwest.
The sell-off also would have complicated efforts to rebuild salmon runs on the Columbia and other rivers with hydroelectric dams. Among BPA programs funded by its ratepayers are programs that help to sustain salmon runs and encourage energy efficiency.
The threat to sell off the BPA — at least for this year — is over. But we shouldn’t pretend the proposal is as dead as a cheap battery.
Since water began turning turbines on the Columbia and other rivers, the state’s electrical rate-payers have been paying to build and sustain the Bonneville Power Administration and its system of plentiful, renewable and noncarbon-emitting energy.
Those who add to that investment with each electric bill should be able to continue to benefit from it.
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