Power Council Counsels BPAby Mike O'Bryant
Nearly every utility, power supplier, environmental group and government agency has an idea about the role the Bonneville Power Administration should play in the Northwest's power future.
This week, the Northwest Power Planning Council took all the comments it had heard during almost four months of public input and put together its own views.
Council members this week unanimously approved recommendations to BPA that told the federal power marketing agency how it should conduct its business, particularly its power supply, after 2006.
The recommendations drafted by the Council's staff and the four power committee members -- Tom Karier, Washington; Eric Bloch, Oregon; Jim Kempton, Idaho; and John Hines, Montana -- deal mostly with energy issues, but give a nod to BPA's fish and wildlife obligations.
Leading the pack of issues among BPA's customers is how to divvy up the power among public and investor-owned utilities (IOUs) and direct service industries (DSIs), the length of power contracts, and BPA's future role in resource development, a responsibility many customers want to take away from Bonneville.
It also cautioned Bonneville that the agency needs to satisfy the Northwest Power Act's goals for fish and wildlife recovery, but at an acceptable cost to the region's consumers. That caught the attention of Bloch, who wanted to clarify that BPA should conduct its business in an efficient manner, but that doesn't mean it should reduce its obligations to conservation and fish and wildlife.
"What we're saying is that BPA should act in the most efficient way, not that if we don't like conservation or fish protection, we can throw it overboard," Bloch said.
Larry Cassidy, Council chair from Washington, said he assumes that some utilities, like Seattle City Light, which is paying a portion of BPA's fish and wildlife costs, will be examining those costs.
BPA and the Council earlier this year launched a public discussion about the "Future Role of Bonneville," how the federal agency markets power and how it distributes the costs and benefits of the Federal Columbia River Power System. At the center of much of the comments received was the Joint Customer Proposal offered by a large group of BPA customers, including IOUs and public utilities. Considering it a major settlement agreement among utilities that have more often disagreed on how the federal power system should be used, the Council adopted much of this new plan in its recommendations.
The Joint plan suggested significant changes to Bonneville's role, but neither that plan nor the Council's recommendations endorse backing away from BPA's fish and wildlife obligations. The recommendations say that Bonneville's customers "will continue to pay the costs associated with Bonneville's fish and wildlife obligations."
Dick Watson, director of the Council's power division, said some of the issues have been around a long time, especially how public utilities and IOUs share the costs of the residential and small farm exchange program. However, other issues are newer, such as whether BPA should develop and purchase new generation to meet the region's load growth.
The Northwest Energy Coalition was also concerned with Slice because the product's provisions to share costs and revenues from emergency hydro operations proportionately with Slice customers "creates a perverse incentive to violate fish operations," according to Watson, who summarized the Coalition's concern, but said Slice should reduce the pressure on fish operations.
"To the extent that slice contracts reduce pressure on Bonneville to alter system operations to meet load, this would be beneficial to fish and wildlife," the recommendations said. Yet, the Council also recognizes that Slice customers may want to have more say in BPA fish operations, but makes it clear that responsibility resides only with the federal agencies, not with customers.
The Council also recommended that BPA capture the benefits of interruptible contracts with the DSIs, something that the Coalition supports, but only if workers are compensated. The Coalition adopted a number of goals urged by the United SteelWorkers. That would ensure that workers are available when the DSIs are brought back on line. And, the Council recommended that BPA investigate innovative contracts that would allow the plants to open when aluminum prices are high and there is adequate electricity. DSIs should also be required to develop some of their own resources, the Council recommended.
Bonneville also has been holding a series of meetings with its customers "where they are tipping out their preferences and we've been engaged in that," Cassidy said. He expects BPA to release their draft proposal for public comment in late January or early February 2003. The timing of the Council's recommendations will allow BPA to take the recommendations into account. But, he said, "Their proposal in January or February is only the beginning of the game."
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