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Commentaries and editorials

Northwest Lawmakers Oppose
Selling BPA Transmission Lines

by Dameon Pesanti
The Columbian, June 6, 2017

Trump administration has proposed selling BPA assets

(Bonneville Power Administration) Power transmission line near Bonneville Dam The Trump administration’s proposal to sell the Bonneville Power Administration’s transmission system is meeting strong opposition from both Washington and Oregon’s congressional delegations.

In a letter sent Monday to Secretary of Energy Rick Perry and Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney, all 15 U.S. representatives from the two states wrote that selling the BPA’s transmission system will harm people and industries, divert capital away from needed regional infrastructure improvements, and undermine regional utility coordination.

“Selling off BPA’s transmission assets is bad public policy that undermines the President’s economic objectives and betrays a lack of understanding of the Northwest,” they wrote.

The fiscal year 2018 budget, sent to Congress by the Trump administration, proposed selling BPA’s transmission assets, arguing the move could save the government about $4.9 billion over 10 years.

The representatives, including Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Camas, and Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Spokane, wrote that they are united in opposition to the proposal.

The BPA owns 75 percent of the transmission lines in the Northwest that deliver energy from 31 hydroelectric dams and one nuclear power plant. The maintenance and operation of those lines is paid for by the more than 12 million customers the agency supplies with electricity.

The representatives said they’re concerned that divesting from the system would break up the regional power grid. Selling lines to the highest bidders, they argue, would lead to rate increases for customers in the Northwest who have invested in the system over the decades.

They also said the move would put rural communities at risk. The representatives predicted high-value lines would be sold at a premium while rural lines and grids would likely be abandoned.

“Private companies are unlikely to give these communities the proper maintenance and attention they need to maintain complex transmission assets,” they wrote.

In their letter, the representatives argued selling BPA’s assets could jeopardize its ability to repay the costs of the Federal Columbia River Power System.

The BPA is overseen by the Department of Energy and was created as a nonprofit by Congress in 1937. It has made $32.5 billion in payments to the U.S. Treasury over the years.

The proposal is not a new concept in Washington, D.C. The Reagan, Clinton and George W. Bush administrations all raised similar ideas in the past. Northwest congressional delegations objected every time.


Dear Secretary Perry and Director Mulvaney:

We write to you to express our concern with a provision in the President's Fiscal Year (FY) 2018 Budget Request that proposes to sell off transmission assets for federal Power Marketing Agencies, including for the Bonneville Power Administration (BPA). We believe divesting BPA's transmission assets will harm individuals and businesses, divert capital needed for further infrastructure investment in the Northwest, and undermine regional utility coordination. For these reasons, we are united in opposing implementation of these elements of the FY18 Budget.

BPA has a fundamental role in our region that dates back decades. Established by Congress in 1937 as a nonprofit federal power marketing administration, BPA was tasked with helping to manage and sell power generated by the newly constructed Bonneville Dam on the Columbia River. Eighty years later, BPA has helped to develop and administer the complex electrical system that powers the Northwest, now providing affordable and reliable power to over 12 million people and the businesses that help the region thrive.

Importantly, BPA is self-funding, and is of no cost to the taxpayer. The entire BPA transmission system -- both the capital investment and operation and maintenance -- is fully paid by the users of the system. In fact, it has benefitted U.S. taxpayers by providing more than $32.5 billion in payments to the U.S Treasury. Divesting these assets to the highest bidder could transfer the benefit and equity of these investments from the Northwest consumers, who have financed the system, to distant investors. Furthermore, this proposal will lead to a certain rate increase for consumers, imposing increased costs on families and economic development, potentially jeopardizing the ability of the BPA to repay the costs of the Federal Columbia River Power System.

We are also concerned that the divestiture would put rural communities in the Pacific Northwest at increased risk. Currently, BPA coordinates in transmission and power marketing functions to maximize efficiency. Severing that relationship will undermine this goal. Moreover, privatization could lead to the division of the regional grid, with high-value assets sold off for a premium and lines that serve rural areas and grid reliability abandoned. Private companies are unlikely to give these communities the proper maintenance and attention they need to maintain complex transmission assets.

Contrary to the FY18 Budget's rationale, BPA owns 75% of the transmission in the Pacific Northwest. All Northwest utilities and the customers they serve depend on BPA's grid to access affordable and reliable power. Selling off BPA's transmission assets is bad public policy that undermines the President's economic objectives and betrays a lack of understanding of the Northwest.

We oppose this proposal, and instead urge you to work with us to support the continued health of BPA, which has been central to the economic vitality of the Northwest.


Related Pages:
BPA Grid Sale Tied to Fantasy Budget by Editorial Board, Spokesman-Review, 6/7/17
Politicians Oppose Privatization of Bonneville Power Administration by News Sources, KOBI 5, 6/5/17
NW Lawmakers Urge President Trump: Don't Sell Off BPA Assets by News Sources, KTVZ, 6/5/17


Dameon Pesanti
Northwest Lawmakers Oppose Selling BPA Transmission Lines
The Columbian, June 6, 2017

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