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Northwest Urged to Unite to Protect Hydroelectricity

by Dan Gallagher
Seattle Times - January 7, 2001

BOISE - Northwestern states must band together to defend their coveted hydroelectricity in the face of an energy crisis in California and changes in federal policy, legislators from the region agreed yesterday.

California's emergency efforts to secure electricity from the Northwest grid took center stage at a meeting of the Legislative Council on River Governance in Boise.

"We shouldn't be California-driven and be tools in their tool box," said Eric Bloch, Northwest Power Planning Council member from Oregon.

Southern California Edison and Pacific Gas and Electric are struggling to stay solvent due to soaring prices for wholesale electricity and a state-imposed rate freeze that prevents them from shifting costs to their customers.

Legislators from Idaho, Washington, Oregon and Montana yesterday urged governors and congressional delegations to preserve the benefits regional ratepayers have enjoyed from cheap hydropower in the federal Columbia River dam system.

"If these four states don't get together - including Washington - we'll all lose," said Leo Giacometto, a new power-council member from Montana.

In a letter to the governance committee, Washington Senate Democratic Caucus Chairwoman Harriet Spanel said there are several forums along the lines of that panel, so the Democratic legislators would not attend the Boise gathering.

Energy Secretary Bill Richardson in December ordered 75 Western power suppliers to sell electricity to power-strapped California.

The governance task force noted national energy regulation is likely to be introduced in Congress to address such power emergencies in ways that could be disadvantageous to the Northwest.

The transmission and generation functions of the Bonneville Power Administration will be separated by order of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, meaning significant changes ahead for the regional power broker, the resolution said.

U.S. Sen. Larry Craig stressed to the legislators that their states must present a united front to Congress to defend their interests against the larger faction of California lawmakers.

Idaho Public Utilities Commission President Dennis Hansen said the uncertainty in the West's power supply indicates it will be a long time before Congress gets around to deregulating the power industry nationwide.

He added the current electrical crunch is the result of increased population, as well as the California utilities' refusal to build more power plants for the past 15 years or so.

Utilities were reluctant to build more plants because they were uncertain what income they would realize after deregulation, Hansen said.

Dan Gallagher, Associated Press
Northwest Urged to Unite to Protect Hydroelectricity
Seattle Times Company, January 7, 2001

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