Northwest Power ActJohn Harrison
NW Power & Conservation Council, October 31, 2008
On December 5, 1980, Congress passed the Pacific Northwest Electric Power Planning and Conservation Act, which authorized the four states of Idaho, Montana, Oregon, and Washington to form the Northwest Power and Conservation Council (Council). President Jimmy Carter signed the bill into law in one of his last acts as President.
The Northwest Power Act directs the Council to prepare a plan to protect, mitigate and enhance fish and wildlife of the Columbia River Basin that have been affected by the construction and operation of hydroelectric dams while also assuring the Pacific Northwest an adequate, efficient, economical and reliable electric power supply. Between 1976 and 1980, the Act evolved in response to three crises in the Pacific Northwest.
The first resulted from the culmination of the hydropower system and, as a result, the certainty that no more large dams would be built. The last mainstem dams of the 31-dam Federal Columbia River Power System, Lower Granite on the Snake, and Libby on the Kootenai in Montana, were completed in 1975. It was widely perceived that the Northwest soon would run out of electricity unless new power plants were built to augment the hydropower supply. Because power from new plants would be more expensive than the federal hydropower, an allocation dispute developed over access to the low-cost federal hydropower. At one point, state of Oregon officials considered declaring the entire state a public utility district -- the Domestic and Rural Power Authority of Oregon -- in order to qualify all of the state's ratepayers as preference customers of the Bonneville Power Administration, which sold the output of the federal dams. In the 1970s, regional energy officials and politicians sought a legislative fix to the energy crisis, a means of dividing the federal power supply pie.
The second crisis was one of electricity demand forecasting. The fear of shortage was real, and the scramble for access to Bonneville's power was real, but the energy crisis was not; the problem was with inaccurate energy forecasting by the region's electric utilities and Bonneville. But that would not be evident until the 1980s, when the predicted shortage would fail to materialize. In fact, the Northwest would experience an electricity surplus in the early 1980s. But through the 1960s and '70s, electric utilities and Bonneville were predicting future shortages. As it became evident in the late 1970s that nuclear power plants then under construction by the Washington Public Power Supply System might not be needed in the early 1980s as planned, public distrust grew. Several studies showed that energy efficiency could forestall the need for new power plants and do so at a cost equal to or lower than building new plants. It was time to let someone else -- a neutral agency like the Council, for example -- prepare the region's long-range energy demand forecasts.
The third crisis was the decline of salmon runs in the Snake River. While hydropower was a reason for the decline -- in fact, the major reason -- it was not the only reason. Yet the dams were perceived as the primary cause of the decline, which probably had as much to do with poor environmental conditions, such as drought in the mid-1970s and changes in the ocean environment that affect salmon survival, as any other impact. Environmental groups filed petitions to protect the fish under the federal Endangered Species Act in 1979, and these were put on hold when Congress included fish and wildlife mitigation in the Northwest Power Act. The petitions eventually were filed, anyway, and the fish later were listed.
Thus, the Northwest Power Act evolved from a power-allocation dispute, inaccurate energy demand forecasts, public distrust of utilities and Bonneville, public interest in energy efficiency, and a desire to address the root cause of the decline of Columbia River Basin salmon, particularly those that spawned in the Snake River Basin. In response to the growing public distrust of long-range energy forecasting, the Act directed the Council to produce 20-year demand forecasts as part of its power planning responsibilities. In response to public concern that Bonneville should not be allowed to buy the output of new power plants without some form of oversight, the Act directed the Council to oversee any future acquisitions. In response to studies in the late 1970s that showed the region could meet much of its future energy needs through energy efficiency at a lower cost than through nuclear power, the favored new generating technology at the time, the Act directed Bonneville to acquire all cost-effective conservation before buying the output of any new power plants in the future. In fact, the Act established priorities for future resource acquisitions by Bonneville, and traditional thermal resources -- coal and nuclear -- are at the bottom of the list. Finally, in response to the salmon crisis, and to the impacts of hydropower on other fish and wildlife as well, the Act directed the Council to prepare a program, funded by Bonneville, to protect, mitigate and enhance fish and wildlife of the Columbia River Basin, and related spawning grounds and habitat, that have been affected by hydropower. At the same time, the Act directs the Council to prepare a power plan that assures the region an adequate, efficient, economical and reliable power supply.
The Northwest Power Act is a unique piece of legislation, one that responded to crises in a unique part of the country, balancing the public interest in mitigating the impacts of hydropower on fish and wildlife against the public interest in an affordable, reliable electricity supply.
Pacific Northwest Electric Power Planning and Conservation Act on NW Power Council site.
Full text of the Power Act
16 United States Code Chapter 12H (1994 & Supp. I 1995). Act of Dec. 5, 1980, 94 Stat. 2697. Public Law No. 96-501, S. 885.
To assist the electrical consumers of the Pacific Northwest through use of the Federal Columbia River Power System to achieve cost-effective energy conservation, to encourage the development of renewable energy resources, to establish a representative regional power planning process, to assure the region of an efficient and adequate power supply, and for other purposes.
Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled,
Short title and table of contents
This Act, together with the following table of contents, may be cited as the "Pacific Northwest Electric Power Planning and Conservation Act".
[see contents above]
839. Congressional declaration of purpose
The purposes of this chapter, together with the provisions of other laws applicable to the Federal Columbia River Power System, are all intended to be construed in a consistent manner. Such purposes are also intended to be construed in a manner consistent with applicable environmental laws. Such purposes are:
839(1). to encourage, through the unique opportunity provided by the Federal Columbia River Power System--
839(1)(A). Conservation and efficiency in the use of electric power, and [Pacific Northwest Electric Power Planning and Conservation Act, (Northwest Power Act), §2(1)(A), Dec. 5, 1980, 94 Stat. 2697.]
839(1)(B). the development of renewable resources within the Pacific Northwest; [Northwest Power Act, §2(1)(B), 94 Stat. 2697.]
839(2). to assure the Pacific Northwest of an adequate, efficient, economical, and reliable power supply; [Northwest Power Act, §2(2), 94 Stat. 2697.]
839(3). to provide for the participation and consultation of the Pacific Northwest States, local governments, consumers, customers, users of the Columbia River System (including Federal and State fish and wildlife agencies and appropriate Indian tribes), and the public at large within the region in--
839(3)(A). the development of regional plans and programs related to energy conservation, renewable resources, other resources, and protecting, mitigating, and enhancing fish and wildlife resources. [Northwest Power Act, §2(3)(A), 94 Stat. 2697.]
839(3)(B). facilitating the orderly planning of the region's power system, and [Northwest Power Act, §2(3)(B), 94 Stat. 2698.]
839(3)(C). providing environmental quality; [Northwest Power Act, §2(3)(C), 94 Stat. 2698.]
839(4). to provide that the customers of the Bonneville Power Administration and their consumers continue to pay all costs necessary to produce, transmit, and conserve resources to meet the region's electric power requirements, including the amortization on a current basis of the Federal investment in the Federal Columbia River Power System; [Northwest Power Act, §2(4), 94 Stat. 2698.]
839(5). to insure, subject to the provisions of this chapter--
839(5)(A). that the authorities and responsibilities of State and local governments, electric utility systems, water management agencies, and other non-Federal entities for the regulation, planning, conservation, supply, distribution, and use of electric power shall be construed to be maintained, and [Northwest Power Act, §2(5)(A), 94 Stat. 2698.]
839(5)(B). that Congress intends that this chapter not be construed to limit or restrict the ability of customers to take actions in accordance with other applicable provisions of Federal or State law, including, but not limited to, actions to plan, develop, and operate resources and to achieve conservation, without regard to this chapter; and [Northwest Power Act, §2(5)(B), 94 Stat. 2698.]
839(6). to protect, mitigate and enhance the fish and wildlife, including related spawning grounds and habitat, of the Columbia River and its tributaries, particularly anadromous fish which are of significant importance to the social and economic well-being of the Pacific Northwest and the Nation and which are dependent on suitable environmental conditions substantially obtainable from the management and operation of Federal Columbia River Power System and other power generating facilities on the Columbia River and its tributaries. [Northwest Power Act, §2(6), 94 Stat. 2698.] (94 Stat. 2698, 16 USC §839)
PDF file with all the details, by NW Power and Conservation Council
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