the film
Commentaries and editorials

Sell BPA?
No Takers Here

by Dameon Pesanti
The Columbian, July 5, 2018

Trump administration's proposal an absurd idea that will hurt Northwest economy

(Larry Davis/New York Times) Power lines belonging to Bonneville Power Administration run through a field of winter wheat. A proposal to privatize the Bonneville Power Administration is an absurd idea that should draw sharp rebuke in Congress.

The future of the BPA is of utmost interest to Clark County residents, with about two-thirds of the power delivered by Clark Public Utilities being purchased from the publicly owned utility. For decades, the Bonneville Power Administration has provided inexpensive, reliable, renewable energy to the Northwest, contributing to a robust economy while adhering to the environmentally friendly ethos of the region.

In short, hydroelectric power helps to define us and how we live in Clark County.

In spite of that, the Trump administration is renewing pursuit of plans to sell the BPA to private investors. In a 128-page document titled "Delivering Government Solutions in the 21st Century," officials recommend selling several publicly owned power producers, claiming privatization would "encourage a more efficient allocation of economic resources and mitigate unnecessary risk to taxpayers."

The document reads: "The Federal Government's role in owning and operating transmission assets creates unnecessary risk for taxpayers and distorts private markets that are better equipped to carry out this function. Ownership of transmission assets is best carried out by the private sector, where there are appropriate market and regulatory incentives."

This adheres to conservative dogma that privatization is inherently more efficient -- a trope that is fundamentally flawed when it comes to the BPA or other large enterprises.

Privatization and competition do, indeed, create a more efficient market in many situations. If a company is manufacturing widgets -- to borrow from traditional economic theory -- having additional businesses in the market will cause that company to lower costs and improve production in order to remain profitable. That competition benefits consumers as companies lower the cost of their product and benefits workers as companies provide wages and benefits that can attract the best employees.

Suggesting that privatization will have the same impact upon power production is a ridiculous assumption. Selling the Bonneville Power Administration will not attract competitors to the marketplace; it will create a privately owned monopoly that is beholden to stockholders rather than taxpayers. It is silly to think an upstart company will build a dam across the Columbia River in order to compete with the existing utility. It is folly to think the people of Washington would welcome coal-fired electrical plants under the guise of lowering energy costs.

As Fred Heulte of the NW Energy Coalition said: "It just looks like some people in D.C. who've long decided privatization is the solution to everything. What is the problem this proposal is trying to solve? It would be very bad for our regional economy."

Equally important is the fact the Trump administration has backtracked on earlier promises regarding the BPA. Rather than heed the desires of Northwest residents and representatives, officials are clinging to ideology that has no foundation in reality. Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Battle Ground, said: "Any divestiture of BPA assets would have to be approved by Congress, and I will continue working with a united Northwest congressional delegation to ensure it doesn't happen."

That presages a needless congressional fight born of flawed economic theory. Selling the Bonneville Power Administration is an absurd idea that should be quickly rejected.

Related Pages:
It's Time to Bury Plan to Sell Bonneville Power by Editorial Board, Walla Walla Union-Bulletin, 7/6/18
Trump Administration Puts BPA Assets Back on Chopping Block by Dameon Pesanti, The Columbian, 7/2/18
Trump Abandons Bonneville Power Administration Asset Sell-off Plan by Dameon Pesanti, Portland Business Journal, 5/24/18
Trump's Bonneville Power Administration Selloff is In Doubt by Noah Haglund, Herald Net, 5/25/18
Trump's Budget on BPA Goes from Bad to Worse by Scott Corwin, The Oregonian, 2/19/18
Trump Wants Bonneville Power Administration Sell-off by Noah Haglund, Herald Net, 2/18/18
Trump Budget Proposes Selling Off Bonneville Power Transmission Lines (Again) by Courtney Flatt, Oregon Public Broadcasting, 2/13/18
Trump Budget Goes After Bonneville Power Administration Again by Pete Danko, Portland Business Journal, 2/12/18
Wyden on Energy Department Nominee -- Selling Off Bonneville Power is a Nonstarter by Staff, My Central Oregon, 6/6/17
BPA Grid Sale Tied to Fantasy Budget by Editorial Board, Spokesman-Review, 6/7/17
21 U.S. Senators Blast Trump Proposal to Sell BPA Power Grid by Staff, Seattle Times, 6/8/17
Northwest Lawmakers Oppose Selling BPA Transmission Lines by Dameon Pesanti, The Columbian, 6/6/17
Politicians Oppose Privatization of Bonneville Power Administration by News Sources, KOBI 5, 6/5/17
NW Lawmakers Urge President Trump: Don't Sell Off BPA Assets by News Sources, KTVZ, 6/5/17

Dameon Pesanti
Trump Administration Puts BPA Assets Back on Chopping Block
The Columbian, July 5, 2018

See what you can learn

learn more on topics covered in the film
see the video
read the script
learn the songs
discussion forum
salmon animation