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BPA Chief Johansen Moves to Private Sector

by Barry Espenson
Columbia Basin Bulletin - November 17, 2000

The Bonneville Power Administration witnessed a changing of the guard today (Nov. 17) with Administrator Judi Johansen leaving to become executive vice president for government affairs and regulation at PacifiCorp.

BPA markets roughly half of the electricity, primarily produced at 29 federal dams, used in the Pacific Northwest and brings in nearly $2 billion in revenues that are used, in part, to fund mitigation for hydrosystem impacts to Columbia Basin fish and wildlife.

Secretary of Energy Bill Richardson will name Steve Wright, currently BPA's deputy administrator, as acting administrator, also effective today.

"Judi has been an outstanding leader during a very interesting and hectic time for the energy industry. In the face of many challenges -- ranging from industry deregulation to a chaotic energy market -- she guided the Bonneville Power Administration to financial stability, helped forge a unified Northwest fish and wildlife plan, and forwarded conservation and renewable resources," Richardson said in making the announcement late last week.

Johansen has served as administrator since June 1998, returning to BPA from a two-year stint as vice president of business development for Avista Energy, based in Washington state. She had previously been BPA's vice president of generation supply.

BPA said that Johansen recused herself from BPA decision making, because of potential conflicts of interests, since PacifiCorp approached her a few weeks ago.

Wright, who was named deputy administrator earlier this year, has spent a substantial amount of his time as head of BPA's Washington, D.C. office where he was liaison to the Department of Energy, Congress and various public interest groups.

"Steve's experience will help him guide BPA until a permanent administrator is named," Richardson said. "We are confident that his talent, combined with the strong management skills of Steve Hickok, BPA's chief operating officer, will produce a strong team effort at Bonneville."

Richardson particularly noted the importance of BPA proceeding energetically with the agency's major initiatives, including developing a Northwest regional transmission organization, putting contracts and rates in place for the post-2001 period and completing a basinwide salmon recovery strategy.

Although Johansen's administration at BPA has been relatively brief, it has been eventful, and her legacy is considerable, according to a BPA press release.

At her inaugural address in June 1998, Johansen laid out a vision for BPA. She said she wanted to stabilize BPA economically, so that the agency would have a solid foundation for proceeding into the new century.

That goal was substantially realized earlier this month with signing of the new power subscription contracts with BPA customers. Most of those contracts are for 10 years.

This stability lays a foundation for another of Johansen's goals: preserving the federal hydro benefits of the region for the Pacific Northwest. Under her stewardship, BPA has managed the extreme volatility of current power markets, ending the current fiscal year with financial reserves that will contribute to continued stability in face of both unpredictable weather and an unpredictable market, according to BPA.

Johansen also called for a unified fish and wildlife plan and has worked with other regional entities to bring about a regional approach to fish and wildlife protection and mitigation, BPA said. Nine federal agencies -- the so-called Federal Caucus -- combined to produce a Columbia Basin salmon recovery strategy that for the first time addresses fish species throughout the region across all habitats. It addresses harvest and hatcheries, as well as hydro operations. The National Marine Fisheries Service is scheduled to unveil a final strategy and hydrosystem biological opinion in December.

Regional entities that monitor, and are affected by, BPA's power marketing and fish and wildlife mitigation activities generally gave Johansen positive reviews.

"I thought Judi Johansen was an outstanding administrator," Larry Cassidy, chairman of the Northwest Power Planning Council said Monday. He called her generally open minded and a "breathe of fresh air in Bonneville."

"You knew the boundaries. You knew what she thought was right" in any discussion, Cassidy said. The NWPPC, with a dual role of mitigating for hydrosystem impacts on Columbia Basin fish and wildlife and ensuring a reliable regional power supply, regularly deals with BPA both on fish and wildlife and power issues. The federal power marketing agencies funds the Council's $127 million annual fish and wildlife program.

"I think the community will have to look real hard to find someone with her sincerity" to bring together the region's multiple interests, Cassidy said. "We're going to sorely miss her."

"Judi has been one of the best agency administrators the tribes have had the pleasure of working with," according to Don Sampson, executive director of the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission.

"We found her to truly care about tribal circumstance," Sampson said. "She has been a great listener and a straight shooter. We wish her well."

The Northwest Energy Coalition's executive director, Sara Patton, noted at least two positives that emerged during Johansen's tenure. During public meetings on the Corps of Engineers' study on lower Snake River dam breaching and development of a federal salmon recovery strategy, "it really was BPA that knocked itself out" to make sure public input was meaningful, Patton said. That has not always been the case in federal processes where the views of her group have been summarily dismissed.

"BPA has gotten much better at public process," said Patton, who added that the Corps and National Marine Fisheries Service "are still in the dark ages" in that regard.

The coalition represents nearly 100 organization members in the four Columbia states. It advocates clean, affordable energy with an emphasis on conservation and renewables -- and the protection and restoration of beleaguered salmon populations. Patton said the group is on record as favoring lower Snake dam breaching as a key element in salmon recovery.

Patton also said that recent BPA proposals in its ongoing rate case for the 2002-2006 period are encouraging. Both the level of rates and Cost Recovery Adjustment Clause provisions proposed would help ensure salmon recovery funding.

"We have a much higher likelihood of implementation" under revised BPA rate case proposals, Patton said.

"Those, to me, are the two things that Bonneville has done under Judi's watch that were good for fish," Patton said.

John Saven, executive director of Northwest Requirements Utilities, said Johansen handled a "very difficult job" with relative aplomb.

"She was open minded and fair to those would like to see the power system deliver more," Saven said, as well as to those more concerned about cementing BPA fish and wildlife funding obligations.

"I thought she did a good job of striking a balance," Saven said. That included understanding BPA's role and improving its working relationship with other federal agencies and Congress.

She did leave unfinished business, specifically the ongoing rate case. Saven said BPA last week advised wholesale power customers that rates could climb as much as 20 percent because of unanticipated load growth and high market prices. The organizations Saven represents, 22 utilities with irrigation load and 20 others almost solely dependent on BPA for power, had last summer signed contracts anticipating that rates would not increase. Final rates and power allocations will be decided in the coming months in a reopened rate case.

Still, Saven said he could not fault Johansen for resigning to pursue a career opportunity.

The National Wildlife Federation's Tim Stearns also heralded Johansen for making the agency receptive, bureaucratically, to fish and wildlife concerns.

"She recognized that if Bonneville was to survive it had to embrace its broader responsibilities," Stearns said. The result, he said, was a shift from a "caustic approach to fish to a more productive approach."

He said the BPA fish and wildlife funding principles completed under her leadership were a good start toward identifying and fulfilling salmon restoration needs. Her call for unified plan also worked to move the recovery effort off dead center, he said. That and Johansen's willingness to work with NMFS were "steps in the right direction.'

But Stearns said he was "disappointed that she left before we had a chanced to finish the package. If you don't have a recovery plan in place the uncertainty doesn't go away."

He said he feared the change in federal leadership -- NMFS regional administration Will Stelle and EPA regional chief Chuck Clarke also resigned their posts in recent months -- could slow recovery momentum.

by Barry Espenson
BPA Chief Johansen Moves to Private Sector
Columbia Basin Bulletin, November 17, 2000

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