President Bush wants some of the money that federal dams in the Northwest get for surplus electricity to be used to pay off the dams’ long-term debt, much the way a family might pay down its mortgage when it gets extra cash. It’s a “sound business practice,” according to the 2007 budget proposal Bush sent to Congress Monday.
No, it’s a bad idea that amounts to a raid on the Bonneville Power Administration, said Northwest members of Congress. It might reduce BPA debt payments in the future, but it could raise electric rates to customers of public utilities by 10 percent right now.
That’s because BPA currently uses these “secondary market revenues” – money made from selling electricity it doesn’t need for regular customers – to keep power rates low. BPA supplies power to public utilities throughout the Northwest; private utilities like Avista have their own dams.
Democrats and Republicans from around the region blasted the proposal Monday as the latest attempt by a president to rearrange BPA financing in a way that would raise the cost of power from federal dams on the Columbia and Snake rivers.
“When are they going to stop picking on the BPA?” asked Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash.
Unlike some past presidential proposals, this one might not need congressional approval, Cantwell said. The budget proposal suggests it could be done administratively; then Congress would have to take action if it wanted to block it. “We’re going to fight it,” Cantwell said.
While Rep. Cathy McMorris, R-Wash., described the Bush budget proposal overall as fiscally responsible, she argued that siphoning off some surplus power revenue would squeeze residents and businesses in the region.
“One of my top priorities is to provide economic growth for Eastern Washington, yet this cannot happen if BPA is forced to increase our energy rates,” McMorris said.
Sen. Larry Craig, R-Idaho, and Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Wash., also found other things they liked in the budget proposal, but both called the BPA item “ill-conceived.”
“The Oregon, Washington and Idaho delegations will beat it down,” a spokeswoman for Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., predicted.