DOE Names New Leader
by Jeremy P. Jacobs & Lesley Clark
The Trump administration yesterday named a new leader of the Pacific Northwest's hydropower giant as the federal agency faces pressure to address dwindling salmon runs and cost overruns heading into contract negotiations with its power customers.
Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette said yesterday he's named John Hairston as administrator and CEO of the Bonneville Power Administration, which markets the power generated at 31 dams and maintains more than 15,000 circuit miles of high-voltage transmission lines.
"BPA is an important provider of reliable, renewable hydroelectric and clean nuclear power to the Pacific Northwest, and John's commitment to serve BPA will support the department's critical energy mission," Brouillette said in a statement that noted BPA generates about 27% of the power in the Pacific Northwest.
The department conducted an "open, fair and transparent recruitment process" and found Hairston best qualified, Brouillette said.
Hairston has served as acting administrator and CEO of BPA since last September after Elliot Mainzer left BPA to lead the California Independent System Operator, or CAISO, the Golden State's grid overseer (Greenwire, Aug. 7, 2020).
BPA is in perhaps its most challenging period since it was established in 1937. The plunging prices of solar and wind energy have made them either as cheap as or cheaper than BPA's hydropower. The agency is also saddled with the region's salmon and steelhead recovery program, which has cost BPA and its ratepayers nearly $17 billion -- the most expensive endangered species program in American history -- and has produced questionable results (Greenwire, Sept. 25, 2019).
As a result, the sprawling federal agency has had debt levels as high as $15 billion, though BPA has emphasized that it has never missed a debt payment to the Treasury. Its wholesale power rates have risen 30% since 2008, and it has struggled to maintain strong ratings from the country's main credit rating agencies.
Those issues, plus the costs of fish mitigation, are coming to a head as BPA negotiates new 20-year power contracts with its customers (Greenwire, Nov. 27, 2019).
Hairston has had various positions at BPA for nearly three decades, including chief operating officer.
Hairston said he was "truly honored and humbled by the opportunity to lead BPA during this dynamic time" and pledged that the agency would "continue to deliver on our strategic goals in order to remain a long-term provider of choice for low-cost, reliable, and responsible carbon-free power."
Biden selects SBA leader
Also yesterday, President-elect Joe Biden picked Isabel Guzman, the head of California's small-business advocacy agency, to lead the U.S. Small Business Administration.
The SBA works with the Department of Energy, overseeing a federal loan program to assist small businesses with energy efficiency improvements.
The Biden transition noted Guzman is a former senior adviser and deputy chief of staff at the SBA -- and a small-business entrepreneur herself.
"She is a passionate advocate for small businesses who knows firsthand the opportunities they create for families and communities," the transition said in a statement.
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