Federal legislators seek investigation of BPA

Congressional members requested the US Department of Energy (DOE) and the General Accounting Office to investigate Bonneville Power Administration for selling power first to Northwestern customers at low prices and then to California market at higher prices. Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.) and senators Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif) and Barbara Boxer (D-Calif) have asked DOE to stop BPA from signing contracts with Northwestern customers and excluding California


Ann de Rouffignac
OGJ Online

Congressional members requested the US Department of Energy (DOE) and the General Accounting Office (GAO) to investigate Bonneville Power Administration for selling its low-cost hydroelectric power first to Northwestern area customers and only at higher prices into the California market.

Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.) and senators Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif) and Barbara Boxer (D-Calif) have asked DOE to stop BPA from signing contracts with Northwestern customers and excluding California.

BPA�s policy needs to be reviewed especially in light of electricity deregulation in the states, they say. Taxpayers outside of the Northwest paid for the dams and generators too, says Rep. Miller. BPA is a federal agency under DOE's jurisdiction.

Also, Reps. Bob Franks (R-NJ) and Marty Meehan (D-Mass.) asked the GAO to audit Bonneville�s �profiteering� sales into the tight California market.

Franks and Meehan said an audit by the GAO would expose who is benefiting from BPA's selling its low-cost power in California for more than 20�/kw-hr.

�The nation�s taxpayers which created and subsidize BPA don�t receive any of these profits. The only beneficiaries are a few lucky corporations and favored utilities in the Pacific Northwest,� Franks and Meehan�s letter states.

The GAO said the request for an investigation would be a lower priority because it was not authored by a committee chair or cochair with jurisdiction over the issue, says Laura Kopelson, spokesperson for the GAO. She said the GAO would first find out if any other federal agencies are looking into the matter. Depending on what�s going on at the time, GAO will decide if it will conduct an investigation within about 10 days, she says.

Feinstein and Boxer asked US Energy Sec. Energy Bill Richardson to review BPA�s contract policies and the implications of new contracts on availability of federally subsidized power to more customers throughout the western US.

According to Feinstein and Boxer, BPA�s contracts with certain utilities and aluminum companies in the Northwest will expire next year. BPA is reportedly in discussions to extend those contracts for up to 10 years.

BPA also announced that it will not extend contracts to certain California customers, including the Bay Area Rapid Transit, Southern California Edison Co., and certain cities in California. The decision comes at a time the state is already experiencing difficulty serving its electricity load.

BPA cites increasing local demand and constraints on supply in the Northwest for the contract changes, says Feinstein in the letter. BPA did not return phone calls by deadline.

According to the agency's website, �BPA is a federal agency under the DOE that markets wholesale electrical power and operates and markets transmission services in the Pacific Northwest.�

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