Monday, March 1, 2021
March 1, 2021

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Northwest lawmakers oppose selling BPA transmission lines

Trump administration has proposed selling BPA assets

By , Columbian staff writer
Published:

The Trump administration’s proposal to sell the Bonneville Power Administration’s transmission system is meeting strong opposition from both Washington and Oregon’s congressional delegations.

In a letter sent Monday to Secretary of Energy Rick Perry and Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney, all 15 U.S. representatives from the two states wrote that selling the BPA’s transmission system will harm people and industries, divert capital away from needed regional infrastructure improvements, and undermine regional utility coordination.

“Selling off BPA’s transmission assets is bad public policy that undermines the President’s economic objectives and betrays a lack of understanding of the Northwest,” they wrote.

The fiscal year 2018 budget, sent to Congress by the Trump administration, proposed selling BPA’s transmission assets, arguing the move could save the government about $4.9 billion over 10 years.

The representatives, including Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Camas, and Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Spokane, wrote that they are united in opposition to the proposal.

The BPA owns 75 percent of the transmission lines in the Northwest that deliver energy from 31 hydroelectric dams and one nuclear power plant. The maintenance and operation of those lines is paid for by the more than 12 million customers the agency supplies with electricity.

The representatives said they’re concerned that divesting from the system would break up the regional power grid. Selling lines to the highest bidders, they argue, would lead to rate increases for customers in the Northwest who have invested in the system over the decades.

They also said the move would put rural communities at risk. The representatives predicted high-value lines would be sold at a premium while rural lines and grids would likely be abandoned.

“Private companies are unlikely to give these communities the proper maintenance and attention they need to maintain complex transmission assets,” they wrote.

In their letter, the representatives argued selling BPA’s assets could jeopardize its ability to repay the costs of the Federal Columbia River Power System.

The BPA is overseen by the Department of Energy and was created as a nonprofit by Congress in 1937. It has made $32.5 billion in payments to the U.S. Treasury over the years.

The proposal is not a new concept in Washington, D.C. The Reagan, Clinton and George W. Bush administrations all raised similar ideas in the past. Northwest congressional delegations objected every time. 

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