Acting BPA Chief Gets Nod to Take Reinsby Jonathan Brinckman
The Oregonian, January 25, 2002
Steve Wright was named administrator of the Bonneville Power Administration on Thursday, becoming the 13th head of the federal agency that distributes nearly half of the Northwest's electricity.
The position usually goes to a person chosen by the president's party, in this case the Republicans, but Wright, a 21-year BPA veteran, was named interim director by the Clinton administration and has the support of Republicans and Democrats. Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham announced the appointment on Thursday.
Wright, 44, was deputy to the previous BPA administrator, Judi Johansen. He has been acting head of the BPA since late 2000, when Johansen resigned to take a position at PacifiCorp, the Portland-based private utility.
After guiding the agency through the last year's drought and a West Coast power crisis, he was endorsed by all the U.S. senators from the Northwest.
"Steve Wright's leadership at the BPA during this past year has been impressive, and he has earned the respect of this administration," said Sen. Larry Craig, R-Idaho, the region's senior Republican senator.
Wright took two key actions last year: He led a drive to cut demand for BPA power by 10 percent. That allowed the agency to meet its power supply obligations without buying large amounts of electricity on an expensive wholesale market. He directed that the amount of water spilled over federal dams on the Columbia River be sharply reduced, which hurt salmon but increased electricity generation. Reducing spill forces more young migrating salmon through the dams' turbines, and that causes increased death rates.
At the time, conservationists and tribal officials sharply criticized the spill decision. Still, many conservationists said Thursday that they support Wright, mainly because of his strong record on conservation.
Tribes have remained critical of Wright, however, and a tribal official said Thursday that the agency is spending too little on salmon recovery. "Wright's turning BPA into a salmon-recovery skinflint," said Don Sampson, executive director of the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission.
Officials of publicly owned and investor-owned utilities said they were thrilled by Wright's appointment.
"The administration is appointing someone who has already proven to be a great asset to the region," said Patrick Reiten, a vice president of the Pacific Northwest Generating Cooperative, which manages power supply needs of 15 electric cooperatives.
Wright started at the BPA in 1981, shortly after receiving his master's in public affairs from the University of Oregon. He worked in the agency's energy conservation office in Portland, then directed its California and Washington, D.C., offices. He became deputy administrator in 2000 and shortly afterward was appointed acting administrator. As administrator, he will be paid $138,200 a year.
"I'm committed to operating BPA as a sound business enterprise, but one whose mission starts with meeting our responsibilities to serve the public," Wright said Thursday. "That means striving for strong environmental stewardship, low rates, reliable service and being open to the public's ideas."
Wright and his wife, Kathleen, have three children and live in Portland.
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