Elliot Mainzer Leaving Top Post at
by Ted Sickinger
“Energy markets, technologies and public policies will continue to evolve at a rapid pace.”
-- Elliot Mainzer
Elliot Mainzer, the administrator of the Bonneville Power Administration for the past seven years, is leaving to become chief executive of the California Independent System Operator, which manages the transmission of electricity for most of California and a piece of Nevada.
Mainzer is an 18-year veteran at the BPA, which markets the power from 31 federally-owned hydroelectric dams in the region and operates about three quarters of its high voltage transmission network. He was thrust into the job of administrator at the federal power marketing agency in the midst of a veterans hiring scandal that rocked the agency and led to the departure of his predecessor and the agency’s chief operating officer.
For much of his tenure, the agency has also struggled to maintain BPA’s historical advantage as the low-cost provider of electricity to its public utility customers amid historically low natural gas prices, a surfeit of cheap renewable energy that floods into its system, and enormous capital investment needed to maintain and modernize its aging infrastructure.
The agency is also obligated to make $1 billion-plus annual payments on its debt with the federal government each year, and has expensive environmental commitments associated with restoring salmon populations harmed by dams in the region, both of which put upward pressure on electricity and transmission rates. Mainzer’s tenure has also coincided with sweeping changes in regional energy markets and technology
The enormous capacity of the federal hydro-system makes it a foundational player in the regional economy. And its carbon-free output, its extensive fish and wildlife programs, and its role in integrating renewable power into the power supply make it an important actor on the environmental front.
As a manager, Mainzer refocused the agency on operational safety, rebuilt its management team and leadership culture, and prioritized modernizing the grid while controlling rate increases. He will leave the agency at the end of the month.
“Energy markets, technologies and public policies will continue to evolve at a rapid pace,” said Mainzer. “I am confident that with a continued focus on collaborative relationships, customer responsiveness, disciplined cost management and business agility, BPA will successfully address the market, technological and environmental challenges and opportunities ahead.”
It’s not clear there is an heir apparent as administrator, a demanding job that is not well paid compared to comparable private sector utility jobs. The opening also comes during an election year, and after the region’s congressional delegation has repeatedly beat back proposals by the Trump Administration to sell the agency’s transmission assets, which could be detrimental to ratepayers across the region.
The agency’s customers and the region’s delegation will be pushing hard to hire someone with a strong set of public power credentials and experience in the region, said Scott Simms, executive director of the Public Power Council, which represents most of BPA’s largest customers.
“PPC is grateful to Elliot for his leadership and collaboration with public power customers,” he said, “and we look forward to working closely with the Northwest congressional delegation and the administration in a robust process to select a new administrator who can further propel BPA towards being the supplier of choice as we approach new contracts in 2028.”
New Leader Appointed to Bonneville Power Administration by Staff, Statesman Journal, 1/27/14
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