BPA Lobbying for Relief
by Coreen Hart
RUPERT -- Electric rates dominated Rupert City Council discussion at its Dec. 14 meeting.
Larry King, an account executive with Bonneville Power Administration, told the council that BPA is fighting an uphill battle to keep power rates low.
The federal, nonprofit utility doesn't receive taxpayer funds, relying instead on ratepayers to pay its costs. It provides about 40 percent of the power in the Pacific Northwest, including through sales to Rupert and other Mini-Cassia cities.
Ten years of drought and recent economic hard times have cut into BPA's dollar reserves. Combined with other factors, King said, southern Idahoans who have enjoyed electric rates among the lowest in the nation will have to pay more.
BPAasked federal regulators in November for an 8.5 percent increase to the average wholesale rate it charges customers like Rupert.
"Our hair's not on fire, we're not running around screaming,"but BPA needs to ensure it can maintain its system into the future, King said, quoting BPAAdministrator Steve Wright.
An aging hydropower system, pending litigation over salmon recovery and other pressures have contributed to the problem, King said.
Ralph Williams, outgoing general manager for United Electric, said he expects rates to rise between 8 and 9 percent. He argued that rates could be 30 percent lower if BPA didn't pay so much into fish and wildlife conservation.
"When they talk about the salmon recovery, the taxpayers are not paying for that. The Bonneville customers are paying for that," Williams said.
He said a biological opinion on salmon recovery can be interpreted "as a way to run the river that is best for fish. But it has cut our wonderful hydro resource in the region from ... around 11,000 megawatts to around 7,000 MW."
Williams encouraged pressuring the federal judge who will decide if the biological opinion should be implemented for a favorable ruling. U.S. District Judge James Redden will next hold a hearing on the matter March 6.
In other business, the council agreed to absorb an increase in employee health insurance costs. Also, an agreement was reached on a license agreement between Bushmill Properties and the city.
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