People, Power and Politics

I write this article with the intention to inform you of some issues important to public power rate payers and to explain why you continue to see your electric bills increase. Like many Northwest utilities, most of Mason County PUD No. 1’s power is hydroelectric and purchased from Bonneville Power Administration (BPA). For the last year, PUD 1 and other members of the Public Power Council and Energy Northwest consumer advocacy groups have been working with the U.S. Department of Energy and BPA to ensure that BPA continues their mission to supply cost-based power to our local utilities. In addition to BPA’s role as a cost-based power supplier, BPA must adhere to subsequent laws and mandates, including mitigating the impact of the federal hydropower system on fish and wildlife.
Public power customers might wonder why these innate functions of BPA are so important to monitor. Like many governmental services, the power industry bends and fluxes depending on new regulations and budget restrictions. These regulations and restrictions lead to policy decisions that ultimately impact PUD customers as the end-users and consumers of the power that BPA sells. It is our job, as commissioners and advocates of public power and local control, to ensure that our rate payers are receiving the most reliable and low-cost electric services.
There is a movement underfoot on the federal level to continue subsidizing incentives for wind energy producers, even though wind energy remains a costly and unsustainable energy source as this point in its development. While green power technology is exciting and provides hope for future renewable energy sources, the reality is that until the science and management of these programs is able to provide these green energy sources in an economically sustainable manner, our ratepayers simply cannot afford for BPA and the Department of Energy to raise the cost of hydroelectric power to subsidize wind energy. It is energy that is unreliable and cannot be used at all during certain times of the year when hydroelectric energy is overabundant.
Hydroelectric energy, provided by the Colombia River, is a clean and renewable energy that is abundant to our region. PUD 1, along with BPA and other public power agencies, contribute nearly $1 billion (this cost is one-third of your electric bill) every year to protecting salmon and fish habitats and mitigating adverse effects that the dams have on wildlife. Due to policy decisions, hydroelectric power has not been included on the “green energy” list, even though water is one of the Pacific Northwest’s most bountiful renewable resources. We also collaborate with BPA on conservation, the integration of additional renewable green resources, and smart grid technology.
Our collaboration with BPA on a regional level is not the issue. The issue we are facing is that if the U.S. Department of Energy continues down the path of directing the operations of BPA and allowing federal regulatory agencies such as the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to mandate integration of very expensive and unreliable energy sources without stakeholder consideration or cost/benefit analysis, they will essentially remove the transparency in the public process and our local voices will be lost in the wind, so to speak. This month PUD 1 has asked Congressman Norm Dicks and other lawmakers to add their signatures to a letter to the U.S. Secretary of Energy Steven Chu, imploring him to cease the directives from the federal government to BPA and to allow the public’s voice and stakeholder consideration to be part of the process when determining the best and most fair way to serve our ratepayers.
We live in a beautiful region that is rich in natural resources. While PUD 1 continues to encourage conservation and the exploration of renewable and reliable energy sources, we also continue to fight to ensure that politics and regulations do not overshadow our mission to provide locally controlled utility services with the highest possible value at the lowest possible cost. We continue our work to remind Washington, D.C. of Bonneville Power Administration’s mission as well.
Jack Janda, Board President
Mason County PUD No. 1