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To Hell in a Handbasket

The Bonneville Power Association has long touted its hydroelectricity, and the need for dams on the lower Snake River, as cheap and essential to the economic well-being of the Pacific Northwest. That claim got blown to hell in a handbasket recently when a utility manager in eastern Washington said he wanted BPA’s power lines to provide electricity for a mining operation.

But he didn’t want BPA’s hydro power. It’s no longer the cheapest game in town and he could find electricity “from any number of sources in the region.” That claim came from a general manager of a Public Utility District in Usk, Wash.

The man who discovered this quiet, little announcement, is Anthony Jones. He ought to know what he’s writing about since he’s the principal at Rocky Mountain Econometrics, an energy consultant to businesses and conservationists since 2001.

“The reason BPA has lost its competitive power-price edge,” Jones writes, is because it’s saddled with projects like the lower Snake River dams that produce power when it is not needed…and little when it is.

“The NW Power and Conservation Council notes that wholesale power prices are decreasing quickly and will be half the cost of BPA power within three years.” And things will get worse for Pacific Northwest electric companies, he predicts, especially if they sign long-term purchase contracts with BPA with no price guarantees and no exit clauses.

The answer Jones comes up with is for BPA to close its old, high-cost dams like those on the lower Snake, restructure itself and bring rates in line with the market. The behemoth could save itself, the salmon and the orcas, which Jones calls a win, win, win.

“BPA has already wasted 13 years doing nothing,” he concludes. “Starting restructuring today would be an excellent idea.”

Trifecta Moment for BPA, Anthony Jones, Rocky Mountain Econometrics

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