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BPA Administrator Quits

by Jonathan Brinckman
The Oregonian, November 10, 2000

Bonneville Power Administration head Judi Johansen
will take a position at Portland-based PacifiCorp

Judi Johansen, the administrator of the Bonneville Power Administration, announced Thursday that she's resigning to take a position at PacifiCorp, a large Portland-based utility.

Steve Wright, Bonneville's deputy director, will become acting administrator on Nov. 17, when Johansen leaves.

The leadership of Bonneville is important because the agency sells half the electricity used in the Northwest and has a large role in the operation of federal dams in the Columbia basin. Now is a critical time for Bonneville because enormous issues are unaddressed.

Chief among them: an ongoing rate case that will determine who -- including aluminum companies and publicly owned utilities -- will have access to electricity sold by Bonneville and at what price; a federal plan for salmon recovery to determine whether some dams will be breached; a volatile wholesale power market that, with summertime electricity prices at record levels, has California and other states hungry for control of the hydroelectric dams that supply Bonneville's low-cost power.

But the 43-year-old Johansen, named administrator in May 1998, leaves Bonneville in sounder condition than when she arrived. Power users and conservationists said the agency can withstand a change in leadership.

The agency, with revenues of more than $2 billion a year, was in trouble in the mid-1990s when wholesale power prices dropped and the agency began losing customers. Now, with power selling on the wholesale market at five times what Bonneville charges, companies are clamoring for Bonneville's electricity.

"It's difficult to lose somebody of Judi's considerable skill when we have a number of issues unresolved," said Patrick Reiten, vice president of Pacific Northwest Generating Cooperative, which represents 16 regional public utilities. "But Judi wouldn't have been a good manager if she hadn't left an agency in good shape."

Conservationists, tribal leaders and business leaders said Thursday that Johansen had been good at the difficult job of balancing customers and constituents often sharply at odds about how Bonneville should be run. Conservationists, for instance, want the dams operated in a way that minimizes harm to salmon, even if that means forgoing some electricity production; industrial customers want low-cost electricity, which relies upon full use of turbines that hurt salmon.

Sarah Patton, executive director of the NW Energy Coalition in Seattle, gave Johansen credit for increasing Bonneville's investment in wind and solar generation and for increasing programs to help low-income families cut their energy costs.

Pete Forsyth, vice president of external affairs for Kaiser Aluminum, praised Johansen's foresight in dealing with the intricacies of electricity deregulation and deflecting the effects of California's troubled markets.

Don Sampson, executive director of the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission, said Johansen went out of her way to listen. "The tribes are losing one of the best administrators that BPA has had," said Sampson. "She's done a wonderful job in a very difficult position."

Johansen said Thursday that she had not been planning to leave Bonneville for at least a year but decided to after a "good, constructive conversation" with Alan Richardson, PacifiCorp president. Johansen, who makes $130,000 a year at Bonneville, said she would earn more as PacifiCorp's executive vice president of regulation and external affairs.

PacifiCorp owns Pacific Power, which sells electricity in Oregon, Washington, Wyoming and California, and Utah Power, which sells electricity in Utah and Idaho. It was bought in December 1999 by ScottishPower of Glasgow, Scotland.

While PacifiCorp buys electricity from Bonneville, Johansen said she could avoid ethical conflicts at PacifiCorp by staying away from areas she was involved in as Bonneville administrator. She said she is prohibited from seeking to influence the Department of Energy, which oversees Bonneville, for one year. She starts at PacifiCorp Dec. 1.

"I'm absolutely thrilled that she has joined us," Richardson said. "Judy has made a big contribution to this region, and she will continue to do this in our company."

Jonathan Brinckman
Gail Hill of The Oregonian staff contributed to this report.
BPA Administrator Quits
The Oregonian, November 10, 2000

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