Editorial: Selling off the BPA would shatter affordable Northwest power and the economy

U.S. senator grills Energy Secretary Rick Perry about BPA

U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Oregon, grills Energy Secretary Rick Perry on April 2, 2019 over Trump's proposal to privatize Bonneville Power.
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U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Oregon, grills Energy Secretary Rick Perry on April 2, 2019 over Trump's proposal to privatize Bonneville Power.

Privatizing the Bonneville Power Administration is a terrible idea, yet amazingly it continues to come up time and again.

This year, unfortunately, is no different.

The outrageous proposal popped up in the 2020 Trump administration budget request, and again our Northwest delegation will have to beat it down.

This is the third year in a row Trump has recommended selling off the publicly owned Northwest transmission grid. And to be fair, the same idea also was considered by Obama, Clinton, George W. Bush and Reagan administrations.

Lawmakers in Washington, D.C., apparently can’t resist what they see as an easy money-making venture.

But what would be a one-time boost to the nation’s budget would shatter an affordable power system in the Northwest, and the ramifications to our region would be disastrous.

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.

Most of the electricity used in the Tri-Cities comes from the BPA.

Currently, the BPA is self-funding thanks to a clever 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 local utilities. So that means power is provided to the region at cost.

It is a fantastic system that needs to be left alone – privatization would ruin it.

Electric rates would increase significantly under private ownership because investors would want to make a profit. The focus no longer would be ratepayers, but on making money for shareholders.

Families would suffer, and businesses would be hurt.

The long-term pain that would ripple through the Northwest isn’t worth the short-term monetary gain that would hardly make a difference in reducing the federal debt, which is how the Trump administration says it would use the money.

U.S. Rep. Dan Newhouse, R-Wash., is helping lead the opposition effort against the ill-conceived plan.

He, along with Reps. Paul Gosar, R-Ariz., and Kurt Schrader, D-Ore., sent a bipartisan letter to the House Committee on the Budget to prevent the sale of BPA’s transmission assets.

The letter was signed by 62 members of Congress, and it emphasized that “costs would inevitably rise in order to fulfill the profit-motive of private owners as the federal government once again attempts to ‘fix’ something that is not broken.”

On the Senate side, U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., has grilled Energy Secretary Rick Perry over the issue.

Last April, he told Perry, “Privatizing Bonneville would just amount to garden variety robbery for families in the Northwest, particularly the ones walking on an economic tightrope and balancing the food bill against the fuel bill, and the fuel bill against the rent bill. They are already stretched very thin without the administration trying to raise their monthly utility bill.”

Wyden added that while privatizing Bonneville would hit everybody in the Northwest, for rural families, “it hits them like a wrecking ball.”

He is right.

That our Northwest congressional delegation has to push back against this shortsighted proposal year after year is maddening, but we need them to continue the fight.