The idea to privatize the Bonneville Power Administration is like a weed. It continues to pop up in federal budget proposals no matter how many times Congress kills it.
The federal 2018 spending bill approved last week thankfully kept the BPA system as is, but there is no time to relax.
Already another plan to sell off the federal agency’s transmission assets has been included in President Donald Trump’s budget for next year.
And once again, we have to rely on our Northwest legislators to help make sure this devastating proposal goes nowhere.
U.S. Senators Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell have wasted no time opposing it.
The Washington state Democrats were among a bipartisan group of 23 senators who sent a letter last week to Mick Mulvaney, director of the Office of Management and Budget, that makes it clear the money grab the administration is considering would raise electric rates and hurt citizens.
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.
What’s more, the power is provided to the region at cost — not at a profit for private investors. This ingenious arrangement has helped keep energy rates relatively low for citizens and for industry officials looking to do business in the Northwest.
Before the 2018 budget was set, the Trump administration wanted the BPA to charge wholesale rates for the power it supplies to local utilities — including Benton and Franklin PUDs, and Richland energy services — at rates comparable with those charged by for-profit, investor-owned utilities.
Last year the Trump administration also proposed to sell off the publicly owned Northwest transmission grid.
Both are horrible ideas that fortunately were beaten down by our Northwest Congressional delegation.
Any profit from the sale of BPA’s transmission assets would be a one-time boost to the federal budget. But Northwest public power customers would end up paying higher rates to people whose focus is not the interests of ratepayers, but of shareholders looking to make money.
BPA owns 15,000 miles of electric transmission lines, and its service territory includes Washington, Oregon, Idaho and some small parts of other nearby states.
There also is valid concern that if the BPA grid is ever privatized, high-value assets would be sold off at a premium and lines that serve rural areas might be abandoned as unprofitable.
That would be disastrous for farmers and other families living far away from an urban hub.
“Selling off BPA’s transmission system and abandoning cost-based rates would raise electricity rates and throw sand in the gears of the Northwest economy,” Cantwell said last month when Trump’s proposal resurfaced.
The BPA has been targeted for decades by federal politicians from both parties looking for new revenue.
The president’s budget proposal for next year includes a plan that is broader in scope for the BPA, according to the letter the senators sent Mulvaney, and it would potentially “undermine reliable and affordable electric service” in several states.
It appears this is a battle that just won’t end. Good thing we’ve got lawmakers in Washington, D.C. who don’t tire of fighting this issue year after year.