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Compromise Shares NW Hydropower

by Editorial Board
Seattle Times, November 13, 2007

How much would 22 million compact fluorescent bulbs cost?

COOLER heads appear to be prevailing in a regional dustup over how the economic benefits of the Northwest hydropower system are shared.

If an agreement among utilities is embraced by a Bonneville Power Administration rate-setting process, customers of both investor-owned and public-power utilities could see some relief in their energy bills. And though Bonneville will begin a lengthy rate-setting process in December, the agency should consider providing that relief early, as winter approaches - something the agreement justifies.

In May, a federal judge ruled Bonneville had miscalculated how much cash benefit was due investor-owned utilities, including Puget Sound Energy, under the Northwest Power Act. The federal marketing agency suspended the payments, which resulted in a 13-percent rate increase for some investor-owned utility customers.

The ruling came after public-power utilities claimed Bonneville's overpayments to investor-owned utilities were causing their customers' rates to be too high.

The court decision stirred much rhetoric among investor-owned utilities, whose executives all but promised to pressure Congress to rewrite the power act. Reopening that law would have been ill-advised, given other U.S. regions' continuing desire to gain access to the Northwest hydropower system.

Last week's agreement between executives of the region's investor-owned utilities and a cross-section of public-power utilities recommends Bonneville reinstate payments to investor-owned utility customers. One estimate puts the payment at about two-thirds of its previous level. At the same time, the public utilities would get some relief.

Some grousing along the periphery continues over this agreement. But this reasonable compromise demonstrates shrewd leadership that best serves utility customers and the region.

Editorial Board
Compromise Shares NW Hydropower
Seattle Times, November 13, 2007

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