Rebel PUDs Should Not Deny Energy Cutby Editors
Seattle Times, January 16, 2004
Public utilities suing Bonneville Power Administration must sign a settlement by midnight Wednesday or deny Bonneville's customers in four states a 10-percent cut in wholesale power rates.
Bonneville and representatives of public and private utilities spent months negotiating a settlement of the lawsuit over what the plaintiffs believe are excessive payments to private utility companies in contracts negotiated during the power crisis of 2000-'01.
But a handful of plaintiffs, led by Snohomish County PUD, are hell-bent on sinking the deal, apparently willing to take their chances in court.
Fat chance, if history is any guide. Before the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in lawsuits from public utilities since 1980, Bonneville has won well over 95 percent of the cases.
The proposed settlement is a sure thing that boasts the support of the governors and the federal congressional delegations of Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Montana, and the Northwest Power Planning Council. Washington Rep. Jeff Morris, chairman of the House energy committee, also has introduced a bill to urge utilities to sign the settlement.
Commissioners for Snohomish PUD, Bonneville's largest customer, rushed to reject the proposal Nov. 18, even snubbing Gov. Gary Locke's personal request to meet with him before taking action. The move essentially killed the deal since all litigants had to sign the proposal, no doubt causing some utilities not to take it up. But 13, including second-largest customer Clark County PUD, have signed on.
Not giving up hope, the governor met with Snohomish PUD officials yesterday to ask them to reconsider.
Although the region has started a slow recovery, lower power rates could help jump-start the economy and provide relief to companies struggling to fund operations with high rates resulting from the 2000-'01 energy crisis.
Clallam County PUD also has rejected the proposal and a few others are declining to take a vote.
Although Seattle City Light and Tacoma Public Utilities are not party to the lawsuit, their customers would benefit from the settlement. Seattle customers would get about a 2- to 3-percent rate cut, while Tacoma customers would not get hit with the 5-percent higher rates the utility delayed pending the settlement.
It's not too late. Snohomish and Clallam PUDs should reconsider their rejection of the settlement, and other plaintiffs should approve it — quickly.
If they don't, they will saddle the region with unnecessarily high rates that could prolong the economic doldrums.
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