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BPA: Power to the People

by Robert McClure
Seattle Post-Intelligencer, January 29, 2007

BPA: Power to the people... and the salmon...
and the states... and the tribes... but maybe not the enviros

Bonneville Power Administration head Stephen Wright swung through Seattle this a.m. -- barely, because his plane almost couldn't land in the fog.

Out of that fog came the Northwest's chief purveyor of power holding a beacon to shine a light on the fast-changing scene around how we get our juice hereabouts. It's not a pretty sight.

Wright is eyeing what promise to be some uncomfortable decisions about who's going to get the cheap slices of the federal hydropower pie in the region. Basically, we're tapped out -- and yet population keeps rising, so something's going to have to be done. Those decisions will be made in the next little while here -- by BPA, Wright hopes, rather than the courts or Congress.

The actual changes in allocation won't go into effect until October 2011 -- but decisions have to be made now if utilities are going to build or buy new power in time. These things take a while, dontchaknow?

Meanwhile, BPA has until July to try to come to agreement with states, tribes, and -- perhaps -- enviros about how to best manage the hydropower system to help salmon recover. You'll recall that the agency has had a pretty long losing streak in the Portland courtroom of federal judge James Redden when it comes to salmon and power.

But Wright is encouraged by the talks BPA has been having with Indian tribes and state officials:

I actually feel reasonably optimistic that we can figure this out. It's really hard. . . (but) People have entered these discussions in relatively good faith.

Already BPA has worked out a plan to help salmon as flows slow this summer -- "it was a swallow-hard for us. We didn't agree with some of what Judge Redden ordered us to do," he said -- and Wright hopes this atmosphere prevails and leads to a longstanding peace treaty. But he's not counting on getting the enviros to sign off on whatever is worked out, because he's dead set against breaching the Snake River dams -- a key goal of the conservationists. Says Wright:

The only thing we can agree to is an agressive non-breach option. We will not agree to breaching the dams.

He points out that a minority of endangered salmon stocks in the Snake-Columbia system even use the Snake. So breaching would erase about the equivalent of Seattle's power supply -- without providing the whole answer for salmon. Wright doesn't believe it, but the enviros argue in this report that breaching would be good not just for salmon, but also for ratepayers.


. . .

(1) Any person who knowingly violates any provision of this Act, of any permit or certificate issued hereunder, or of any regulation issued in order to implement subsection (a)(1)(A), (B), (C), (D), (E), or (F); (a)(2)(A), (B), (C), or (D), (c), (d) (other than a regulation relating to recordkeeping, or filing of reports), (f), or (g) of section 9 of this Act shall, upon conviction, be fined not more than $50,000 or imprisoned for not more than one year, or both. Any person who knowingly violates any provision of any other regulation issued under this Act shall, upon conviction, be fined not more than $25,000 or imprisoned for not more than six months, or both.

Robert McClure
BPA: Power to the People
Seattle Post-Intelligencer, January 29, 2007

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