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Legislators Urge BPA to Continue Rate Cutting

by Chris Mulick, Herald Olympia bureau
Tri-City Herald, July 14, 2006

Utility customers of the Bonneville Power Administration who are making a final push to pressure the agency into cutting electric rates this fall got a shot in the arm this week from members of the Northwest congressional delegation.

A letter they sent Tuesday to BPA Administrator Steve Wright lauds cost cutting measures that already have been agreed to and urged him to keep cutting.

"Given the importance of achieving the lowest reasonable rate, we support your efforts to implement every available measure toward that objective and to maintain a culture of cost consciousness throughout the rate period," they wrote.

The letter was signed by 19 members of the delegation, including Washington Democratic Sens. Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell and Republican Reps. Doc Hastings and Cathy McMorris.

Bonneville is expected to announce, possibly Monday, new rates for a three-year period that begins Oct. 1.

The letter could be significant and possibly foreshadow what is to come as the delegation wields considerable influence over Bonneville. The delegation sometimes is described as BPA's board of directors.

"I think it should weigh heavily with Bonneville," Franklin PUD Manager Jean Ryckman said.

Bonneville's initial proposal of nearly $30 per megawatt hour would have virtually no impact on Northwest ratepayers.

The Northwest Coalition for Affordable Power, a band of 26 public utilities and businesses, governments and interest groups in their communities, has pressed the BPA to set its average rate at $27 per megawatt hour.

The specific impact on retail ratepayers would vary by utility but no dramatic affect on ratepayer bills is expected. While some variables that could drastically alter the picture remain, others are more clear.

New restrictions on how the Columbia River is operated may yet result from ongoing legal battles before a federal judge in Portland, cutting revenues.

But the Northwest Congressional delegation has managed, for now, to hold off a plan to require Bonneville to use some of its surplus power sales to increase its federal debt payments rather than offset other expenses.

Reviews of Bonneville expenses, a restructuring of how Energy Northwest nuclear debt is paid and agreement on a plan to have utilities pre-pay part of their wholesale power bills during tough financial years have trimmed the BPA's expected costs.

Utilities, and now the congressional delegation, want the agency to keep trimming internal costs.

"We look forward to the announcement of a significant rate reduction from BPA's initial proposal," members wrote. Bonneville spokesman Mike Hansen said the agency welcomed the letter because it highlights accomplishments BPA and its customers already have made to reduce costs.

"We have been able to achieve a lot so far," he said. "Those are very positive steps."

He said the agency hopes to make an announcement Monday but that it may get pushed back to later in the week. Customers are anxious.

"We're all just sort of waiting on pins and needles," said Benton PUD spokeswoman Karen Miller.

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Chris Mulick, Herald Olympia bureau
Legislators Urge BPA to Continue Rate Cutting
Tri-City Herald, July 14, 2006

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