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Economic and dam related articles

Shush! Don't Put Bonneville at Risk

by Editorial Board
The Seattle Times, May 25, 2007

Energy leaders in the Northwest ought to tone down the rhetoric over a federal court ruling that is pushing power rates up for investor-owned utilities.

Seven Northwest investor-owned utilities announced this week customer bills soon would jump as much as 13 percent. A federal court ruling prompted the Bonneville Power Administration to suspend payments intended to spread the benefit of the Northwest's federal hydropower system to investor-owned utility customers. In their joint statement, the group said they would pursue "all available options necessary - judicial, administrative, or legislative - to restore their customers' federal power benefits."

Those are fighting words, especially for a region that is vulnerable to political bone-picking if Bonneville's system of 31 dams and its benefits were ever laid out on the floors of Congress.

On this score, everybody involved - the investor-owned utilities, public-power utilities who successfully pressed the federal lawsuit and Bonneville - ought to simmer down. Then they should solve this problem in the region. They should not drag the Northwest Power Act back into Congress.

Those coveting Bonneville's benefits spread the lie that Northwest power users are subsidized by federal taxpayers. That is patently false. While the dams were built with federal money, the customers of public utilities are repaying the U.S. Treasury with annual payments on time and at market-rate interest.

Investor-owned utilities pay almost nothing for the system. However, in the Northwest Power Act of 1980, Congress decided they should share in the benefits - and the payments began.

But a panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Bonneville recently had been calculating the exchange benefit inconsistently with the Power Act. In fact, customers of investor-owned utilities are entitled to some benefit - but possibly less than the $1.5 billion to $1.8 billion paid since 2000.

Bonneville and the U.S. Justice Department are weighing whether to appeal the decision. But a solution that better serves the Northwest is at hand.

So far, among public-utility officials, there seems little appetite to seek full refunds - a wise position. And some representatives of investor-owned utilities - outside of their flaming press releases - seem open to possibly taking less going forward.

The adversaries should reach toward each other, remembering the Northwest has a good thing going with the Bonneville system. They shouldn't risk it.

Editorial Board
Shush! Don't Put Bonneville at Risk
The Seattle Times, May 25, 2007

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