Wallace Backs BPA's Request to Hike Debt Limitby Don Jenkins, Staff Writer
The Columbian, January 12, 2003
State Rep.-elect Deb Wallace of Vancouver ventured into national politics for her first piece of legislation, a resolution urging Congress to let the Bonneville Power Administration borrow $2 billion, a move eyed warily by skeptical environmentalists and taxpayer watchdogs.
House Joint Memorial 4003, filed last week by Wallace, appeals to federal lawmakers and President Bush to raise BPA's debt limit, allowing the power supplier to make improvements, primarily to its transmission system.
"Right now, our problem isn't so much that there isn't enough power being generated. The real problem is that we don't have adequate transmission capacity," said Wallace, a Democrat who unseated 17th District Rep. Jim Dunn.
The government caps BPA's borrowing at $3.75 billion, a limit set 20 years ago and one that the agency anticipates reaching by 2004.
The power supplier, however, estimates it will need $2 billion more in improvements by 2011 to keep up with demand. Without the improvements, the region could face brownouts if the economy and energy demand pick up, according to the BPA.
"We'd like to be able to say the transmission system is not going to be the glass ceiling that the region's economy bumps up against," BPA spokesman Bill Murlin said.
Pacific Northwest federal lawmakers have sought, so far unsuccessfully, increased borrowing power for BPA.
An energy bill passed last year by the U.S. Senate called for raising the debt limit by $1.3 billion. The Senate and House, however, were unable to reach agreement on a final bill.
A united Northwest delegation has sought the increased borrowing authority, but the measure faces opposition from foes of public power, said U..S. Rep. Brian Baird, D-Vancouver.
"Those people tend to oppose anything that could expand public power," he said.
A spokesman for the Washington, D.C.-based Taxpayers for Common Sense said BPA should look at raising rates.
"BPA needs to show more accountability in raising other revenues rather than just coming back to the federal government," said policy director Keith Ashdown.
A spokesman for Save Our Wild Salmon acknowledged that BPA's system needs improvement, but he said Congress should make sure the agency doesn't neglect conservation efforts.
"Given their track record, quite frankly, we don't trust them," said policy analyst Andrew Englander. "I think the solution is to make sure the money is spread around and make sure fish and wildlife isn't left out in the cold while transmission gets the money it needs."
A resolution asking Congress to up the debt limit received widespread support in last year's Legislature but fell by the wayside in the onslaught of bills at the end of the session.
This year, the measure will get a hearing at 10 a.m. Tuesday, the second day of the session, in front of the House Technology, Telecommunications and Energy Committee, which Wallace will serve on.
"I feel like I'm getting my feet wet early," she said. "It's important we have the infrastructure for economic development, and this is an important piece of that."
Clark Public Utilities receives about half its electricity from BPA. The River Road Generating Plant generates the other half.
"We don't rely on (the BPA) system as much as some other utilities," spokesman Mick Shutt said. "But we do need the system for half our power and backup for the other half."
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