How do you tell the secretary of energy that his policy on the sale of the power marketing administrations is misguided and punitive?
I was faced with that question recently after I was asked to participate in a roundtable with Secretary of Energy Rick Perry and a small group of stakeholders at McNary Dam in Hermiston. Perry had accepted Congressman Greg Walden’s invitation to tour one of the great dams on the Columbia River—one with enough capacity to supply power for 686,000 homes.
After concluding his tour led by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Perry sat down with a group of elected officials and other industry professionals to discuss key issues in the Pacific Northwest. I did not know Perry beyond his two runs for the presidency and a deeply personal speech he gave before the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association legislative conference shortly after he was named energy secretary.
Clearly impressed with the tour, Perry was expansive and gracious. But the fact of the matter is, his administration had—like other administrations before it—proposed to sell off assets of the Bonneville Power Administration. If enacted, the proposal to sell off BPA’s transmission lines and substations could have tremendous ramifications for electric cooperative consumers.
It was not a subject we could avoid. During the roundtable, I outlined how some of Oregon’s small co-ops—some with barely one consumer per mile of line—could be left behind by a plan to auction off BPA’s transmission to the highest bidder.
Perry, who knows something about desolate rural areas in Texas, claimed his father used to call such areas “The Big Empty.” To his credit, Perry thoughtfully engaged in the issue and said it was important for BPA stakeholders, from time to time, to make an impassioned case for continued federal ownership of the facilities.
He is right, of course. We cannot rest on our laurels simply because it has always been this way. BPA will, like all of us, need to become more innovative and efficient. And while it appears the power marketing administration proposal will be blocked this year, perhaps we made some headway convincing the administration to shelve the PMA transmission auction in future years. I applaud Perry for his visit, and Walden for his invitation to bring him out here. Oregon will benefit greatly.