The idea to privatize the Bonneville Power Administration is a terrible idea that, unfortunately, continues to come up again and again.
Since the early days of the Reagan administration in the 1980s, Republicans have advocated the sale of BPA’s transmission system. But even President Bill Clinton, a Democrat, once considered the thought. So did President George W. Bush.
Every time the proposal surfaced, our Northwest legislators managed to beat it down. They need to do so again.
Now it is President Donald Trump who is repeating the injudicious attempt to federally hijack a system sustained by Northwest public power customers.
Under his proposed federal budget for next year, the BPA’s transmission assets would be sold in the private sector.
This most certainly would raise electric rates in our region.
It also could harm rural communities who would be at risk of being abandoned when the new owners realize servicing small towns far away from population centers is a cash drain.
The energy provided by the BPA is an understandably tempting source of potential new revenue for the federal government, and Trump’s budget writers justify the power grab by noting that most of the country’s grids are owned by private investors. We get it.
But any profit from the sale of BPA’s transmission assets would be a one-time, federal budget boost to the nation’s taxpayers.
Northwest public power customers, however, would forever end up paying higher rates to people whose focus is not the interests of ratepayers, but rather those who simply want to make money
The BPA is self-funding thanks to an innovative rate plan implemented years ago.
The capital investment, operation and maintenance of the BPA’s transmission system are paid for by those who buy the electricity through their local utilities.
This sweet arrangement has helped keep energy rates relatively low, which in turn also has helped attract and keep many industries — like Boeing — in the Northwest.
Its current mission is to provide the region with power at cost — not make a profit so wealthy individuals can become even more wealthy.
No benefit will come to regional ratepayers if the BPA is privatized — and we are the ones who have been making the system work all these years.
The BPA was established 80 years ago by Congress as a nonprofit federal marketing administration to manage and sell power generated by the Bonneville Dam on the Columbia River. It has been expanded to include other power sources like the Energy Northwest nuclear power plant near Richland.
It operates and maintains about three-quarters of the high-voltage transmission in its service territory, which includes Washington, Oregon, Idaho and some small parts of other nearby states.
All 15 congressional representatives from Washington and Oregon recently sent a bipartisan letter to Energy Secretary Rick Perry and Mick Mulvaney, director of the Office of Management and Budget, opposing the idea of selling the BPA grid.
Those signing the letter include Republican Reps. Dan Newhouse and Cathy McMorris Rodgers, both from Eastern Washington.
Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., has fought this battle under previous administrations. He pledged to again “fight this misguided attempt” and said in a news release, “Public power customers in the Pacific Northwest have paid for the system and their investment should not be put up for sale.”
Privatizing the BPA has always been a bad idea. Our regional lawmakers need to make sure this latest effort fails, just like those before.