Loathes and fishes

WHO COULD possibly want electricity rates in the Northwest to go higher? An alliance of West Coast greens and East Coast smokestack industries, that’s who. Together, they’re pressing a campaign to cut off additional funding for the Bonneville Power Administration (BPA), the Portland-based federal agency that sells hydroelectric power to Washington and Oregon, providing nearly half of all the power used in the Northwest. Seattle City Light and Puget Sound Energy are both customers of BPA, which sells power at cost, well below market rates.

The Green Scissors coalition—which includes environmental groups prominent in the Puget Sound region—last week listed Bonneville as a major target in its campaign against “wasteful and environmentally harmful spending.” Last year, Bonneville sought congressional approval for $2 billion in loans to rebuild its aging transmission grid; the request was shot down, but now, with support from the president, the agency hopes to land at least $700 million in aid from the U.S. treasury.

But Dick Munson of the Northeast-Midwest Institute, a pro-business think tank, says Bonneville’s customers (i.e., you lucky S.O.B.’s with low power bills in the Northwest), not the nation’s taxpayers, should pay for the upgrades.

Friends of the Earth’s regional spokesperson Shawn Cantrell adds that Bonneville already carries $7.5 billion in treasury debt from dam and transmission-line construction and is also liable for the $6 billion that was sunk into the Hanford Nuclear Reservation project if the lone nuke operating there fails to keep up with the payments. BPA has placed taxpayers on the hook for too much already, Cantrell says.

But environmentalists’ primary grievance with Bonneville stems from decisions the agency made during last year’s drought to close off spillways that grant migrating salmon safe passage over dams on the Snake and Columbia rivers. Salmon instead had to pass through the dam’s generating turbines, causing what Cantrell describes as a “massacre” that dropped last year’s salmon survival rate to its lowest point since certain species were declared endangered in 1990.

Bonneville spokesperson Ed Mosey responds that the friends of the fish ought to think twice about allying themselves with pro-business groups engaged in regional politicking. Punishing BPA’s ratepayers because of a disagreement over salmon is counterproductive, says Mosey, because it won’t end up saving any more fish. (Bonneville has committed $186 million this year for wildlife habitat recovery, according to the Northwest Power Planning Council.) Mosey adds that the Northwest faces rolling blackouts in the near future without new transmission lines. And BPA investments ultimately benefit taxpayers, he argues, because the agency is one of the few that pay back federal loans with interest.

Kevin Fullerton

kfullerton@seattleweekly.com


Talk to us

Please share your story tips by emailing editor@seattleweekly.com.

More in News & Comment

Teaser
King County approves emergency grant after U.S. Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade

Washington is expecting an influx of people seeking abortions from out of state.

Fedor Osipov, 15, flips into Steel Lake in Federal Way during last year's heatwave on June 28, 2021. Olivia Sullivan/Sound Publishing
Heatwave expected to hit King County

Temperatures will likely reach 90 degrees Fahrenheit on Sunday, June 26, and Monday, June 27.

Judged by XII: A King County Local Dive podcast. The hands shown here belong to Auburn Police Officer Jeffrey Nelson, who has been charged with homicide in the 2019 death of Jesse Sarey.
JUDGED BY XII: Examining Auburn police officer’s grim tattoos

Episode 5 in special podcast series that explores Jeffrey Nelson’s role in the death of Jesse Sarey.

t
Des Moines Police arrest murder suspect in Kent | Update

Medical examiner identifies body found June 20 in Duwamish River

Photo courtesy of King County.
Officials urge caution when swimming this summer

Cold spring temperatures and larger than normal snowpack have created dangerous conditions

File photo
Fireworks ban takes effect this year in unincorporated King County

The new law does not extend to cities, which each have their own regulations around fireworks.

A semiautomatic handgun with a safety cable lock that prevents loading ammunition. (Sound Publishing file photo)
Large-capacity ammo magazine sales ban starts soon in Washington

Starting July 1, a 10-round capacity becomes the limit for sales. Meanwhile, “there is a rush on magazine purchasing.”

At Dash Point on June 16, 2022. Henry Stewart-Wood/Sound Publishing
All that the tides reveal: Puget Sound’s hidden intertidal world

Exploring King County beaches during the lowest tide in the last 13 years.

Most Read