Late last month the U.S. House Budget Committee approved a budget resolution that rejects privatizing the transmission assets of the Bonneville Power Administration proposed by the Trump administration.
A great move. The sooner this lousy proposal is dead the better it will be for Pacific Northwest residents who pay power bills — pretty much all of us.
“Bonneville Power Administration provides affordable electricity service that is essential for our rural communities, and divesting would needlessly jeopardize regional energy markets,” said U.S. Rep. Dan Newhouse, R-Sunnyside.
Newhouse and others in Congress have wisely taken on the Trump administration on this issue.
President Donald Trump is calling for turning over the transmission network of power lines and substations owned by the Bonneville Power Administration, a federal agency that distributes most of hydropower from the Columbia and Snake rivers’ dams, to private companies.
As Trump sees it, this would lower costs to taxpayers and improve efficiency.
But in reality it would result in far higher rates for consumers. And putting the high-voltage grid in the hands of private investors — perhaps foreign investors — would create national security concerns.
The federal government must retain control of the power infrastructure in the United States.
BPA is part of the U.S. Department of Energy, although it is self-funding. The agency essentially pays its own way by marketing the wholesale electric power. However, since BPA is ultimately controlled by the government the rates it charges are carefully monitored and are generally consumer-friendly.
In addition, BPA funds energy-conservation efforts and fish protection.
A privately controlled transmission system would be looking to make a profit for its investors. That means it would raise the price for wholesale power to utilities and those higher costs would, of course, be passed on to consumers. While fish protection is mandated, it likely wouldn’t be as high a priority for private owners.
BPA operates and maintains about 75 percent of the high-voltage transmission system in the Pacific Northwest, mostly in Washington, Oregon and Idaho. BPA has 15,000 circuit-miles of high-voltage transmission lines and 261 substations.
Selling BPA assets is shortsighted, like selling the goose that lays the golden eggs.
BPA generates revenue that pays for maintaining the high-voltage grid.
Selling off those assets would pump money into the federal treasury one time, but would then cut off the revenue flow, causing the cost of power to rise higher and higher over time.
The Republican-controlled Congress — the House and Senate — must continue to take action in budget negotiations to ensure BPA remains a public asset, not a private, for-profit company.