BPA Power Exchange Plan Could Save
by Ted Sickinger
Residential and small farm customers of the region's investor-owned utilities would receive $4 billion worth of monthly credits on their electricity bills over the next 17 years under a pact that the Bonneville Power Administration is expected to endorse this week.
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Controversial since its inception, the system has become a pitched battle in recent years over who should reap the benefits of the federal system and how much. Looking to preserve their preference rights, consumer-owned utilities have launched a raft of lawsuits challenging the agency's administration of the program. Their basic contention -- upheld in some cases by the court -- is that BPA has been ignoring the exchange formula mandated by 1980's Northwest Power Act. Instead, they say, the agency has entered agreements that vastly inflate the payments and unlawfully raise their customers' rates to pay for them.
Investor-owned utilities and their regulators, meanwhile, contend the agency's administrator has wide discretion to establish the payments under the tests established by the 1980 law. They believe the payments could be even higher and should escalate over time as the value of the federal system increases.
The dispute has sucked up untold man-hours and legal fees as the agency has tried to navigate a course that satisfies both sides and passes legal muster.
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