The Clinton administration agreed Tuesday to cover the bulk of the new costs to save Northwest salmon, sparing electric ratepayers in the region additional increases in their power bills.
The administration plan covers $90 million to $110 million of the $160 million in additional annual costs anticipated from the government’s latest plans to save the fish from extinction, Northwest congressional Democrats said at a news conference with Deputy Energy Secretary Bill White.
The remaining $60 million or so would be absorbed into the budget of the region’s federal power wholesaler - the Bonneville Power Administration.
Randy Hardy, BPA administra tor, said that with the plan put together by the administration, BPA will not have to seek more than the 5 percent rate increase announced Feb. 9.
In January, the National Marine Fisheries Service estimated that the $160 million in additional recovery costs - if borne entirely by ratepayers - would increase household power bills by $4 a month over the next decade. It also estimated a 6 percent increase in wholesale power costs to companies such as Kaiser Aluminum.
Agency spokesman Brian Gorman said Wednesday he expects those figures would drop, but he referred questions about rate increases to BPA.
However, BPA spokesman Ken Kane said that the earlier estimates were not BPA’s and that the power wholesaler could not estimate what salmon recovery costs would mean to households.
The Columbia River Alliance, an industry coalition, congratulated the Northwest delegation for “preventing the region from shouldering the entire burden of salmon recovery plans.”
Energy secretary White said averting electricity rate increases in the Northwest “has been one of our foremost objectives” as the administration has struggled with proposals to protect the salmon, in large part by altering operation of a series of hydropower dams on the Columbia and Snake rivers.
Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., said White House Budget Director Alice Rivlin outlined the plan in a meeting Tuesday with Baucus, Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., and Reps. Norm Dicks, D-Wash., Elizabeth Furse, D-Ore., and Peter DeFazio, D-Ore.
Rivlin also delivered the plan to Sen. Mark Hatfield, R-Ore., chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee. Rivlin was scheduled to testify today before a Hatfieldchaired hearing on the power administration and the salmon.
“The administration has agreed with us that it is unfair to make folks from Montana and the Pacific Northwest shoulder the entire cost of saving the salmon,” Baucus said.
“This shows salmon recovery is a national priority. It will keep our power rates in the Pacific Northwest from spiraling upward. The net consequence is there will be no rate increase above the 5 percent Bonneville recently announced.”
Murray said, “Now we can focus on salmon recovery measures without bankrupting the people of the Northwest.”
The financing plan anticipates the power administration will cut internal costs for a savings of $30 million to $40 million.
The rest of the projected $60 million to $70 million would come in the form of the federal Treasury granting BPA credits against its federal debt.