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Blumenauer Sees Change in BPA Leadership

by Ted Sickinger
The Oregonian, December 6, 2008

The legislator says he's talked to Obama's transition team about a stronger focus on renewable energy

Rep. Earl Blumenauer said Friday that he expects the incoming Obama administration to seek new leadership at one of the Northwest's most crucial agencies, the Bonneville Power Administration.

The federal power agency, headed by career BPA official Steve Wright, markets electricity from Northwest dams and other power sources and plays a big role in both the region's economy and environment.

Blumenauer, D-Ore., said he has been talking with President-elect Barack Obama's transition team about reorienting the agency so that it focuses more on providing a transmission system for wind power and other new renewable energy sources -- and he expected part of that to involve new leadership.

"I'd be stunned if there isn't a change" at the agency, Blumenauer told The Oregonian after a speech at the City Club of Portland, in which he laid out what kind of investments he wants to see to stimulate the economy while boosting renewable energy.

Wright, who began his career at BPA in 1981, was first appointed as the agency's acting administrator in the last months of the Clinton administration and given the job permanently in the Bush administration. He serves at the pleasure of the Energy secretary and has not said whether he wants to stay on as administrator.

"A new team will come in," Wright said in an interview earlier this week. "We'll talk about what makes sense. I expect that conversation will take place in the spring sometime. I have to do a gut check for myself. This job takes an enormous amount of emotional energy."

Rumors about Wright's fate under a new administration have circulated throughout the Northwest energy community. The agency has the tough job of balancing the needs of different classes of customers, each seeking the lowest possible rates, and of environmental advocates who want to protect fish runs and to move more aggressively on developing green energy.

Bob Jenks, executive director of the Oregon Citizens' Utility Board of Oregon, said there is tension between the agency providing the "lowest possible short-term rates vs. long-term energy policy."

Sandra Flicker, executive director of the Oregon Rural Electric Cooperative Association, said that although many of her members wished the BPA had focused more on its customers' interests, she said there is a lot of fear about the priorities of a new administrator.

Ted Sickinger
Blumenauer Sees Change in BPA Leadership
The Oregonian, December 6, 2008

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