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Judge Scolds BPA for "Marketing Error"

by Associated Press
The Seattle Times, June 25, 2007

PORTLAND - A federal judge has put the Bonneville Power Administration on notice that salmon conservation comes before regional power needs after learning that the BPA miscalculated energy demand and had to risk killing protected salmon in April.

U.S. District Judge James Redden, who is overseeing a landmark case balancing fish and hydroelectricity, learned what happened via an anonymous phone message.

He was upset, having already lost patience with repeated federal failures to meet his requirements to address the damage dams do to salmon.

"Apparently, BPA's sales commitments to customers always trump its obligation to protect" Endangered Species Act-listed species, Redden wrote in a stern order. "This was a marketing error and ESA-listed fish paid the price. This, the law does not permit."

The problem occurred April 3 when the BPA, in a series of faulty calculations days earlier, had sold power companies more electricity than it could draw from hydroelectric dams along the Columbia and Snake rivers. And Bonneville marketers couldn't buy enough back to cover the shortfall.

Managers were faced with two choices: Adjust dam turbines to boost power, thrashing and possibly killing federally protected salmon heading downriver to the ocean; or cut off power people needed during a cold snap.

Bonneville kept the power flowing.

"Under the circumstances here, threatened and endangered species must come before power generation," Redden wrote, ordering that from now on dams be operated with full salmon safeguards and that he be notified of any deviations.

He also directed the BPA to distribute his order to all employees with duties involving the dams.

The April episode highlights the delicate balance within the region's energy supply, where one miscalculation can harm salmon or cut energy to cities.

According to a transcript, one system operator told her supervisor: "I don't have any more rabbits to pull out of the hat."

Backup coal and natural-gas power plants were shut down while their owners used cheap hydropower instead.

Another operator at John Day Dam laughed at a request for more power.

"If I had more, I'd give it to you," he said, according to the transcript. "But I've got no more."

After getting the anonymous message a week later, Redden demanded an explanation.

He was told the BPA had been selling lots of surplus power as Grand Coulee Dam released extra water to bring lake levels down for fish. But an analyst overestimated the BPA's April 3 power supply and the BPA sold more energy than it had, officials explained in court documents.

"What happened April 3 was a rare, unplanned and unexpected event that occurred during a narrow window of time due to a series of unfortunate circumstances," BPA spokesman Michael Hansen said last week.

A BPA team is examining how to better handle such situations.

Related Sites:
Left in the Dark on Salmon Editorial Board, The Oregonian, 6/24/7
Customers, 1; Fish, 0 by Michael Milstein, The Oregonian, 6/21/7


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(1) Any person who knowingly violates any provision of this Act, of any permit or certificate issued hereunder, or of any regulation issued in order to implement subsection (a)(1)(A), (B), (C), (D), (E), or (F); (a)(2)(A), (B), (C), or (D), (c), (d) (other than a regulation relating to recordkeeping, or filing of reports), (f), or (g) of section 9 of this Act shall, upon conviction, be fined not more than $50,000 or imprisoned for not more than one year, or both. Any person who knowingly violates any provision of any other regulation issued under this Act shall, upon conviction, be fined not more than $25,000 or imprisoned for not more than six months, or both.

Associated Press
Judge Scolds BPA for "Marketing Error"
The Seattle Times, June 25, 2007

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