President Donald Trump’s new budget proposal would sell off publicly owned transmission lines, including the ones owned by Bonneville Power Administration – a key source of electricity for Alcoa’s Intalco aluminum smelter at Cherry Point.
The Trump budget summary proposes raising $4.9 billion for the U.S. Treasury by selling BPA’s transmission assets from 2018 to 2027. An estimated $1.8 billion is expected in 2019.
But the proposed sale would raise rates for utility ratepayers, said Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore.
BPA provides power to Intalco, which employs about 465 people, under a 10-year contract that lasts through 2022. Intalco and its employees have survived some tense times in recent years, as negotiations over the price of electricity led to the shutdown of most of the other aluminum smelters in the region and idled Intalco for a time. Alcoa officials repeatedly have warned that the smelter would have to close permanently without long-term access to BPA’s supply of relatively low-cost hydropower.
BPA also provides power to many public utility systems in the Northwest, including Blaine and Sumas in Whatcom County.
“Public power customers in the Pacific Northwest have paid for the system and their investment should not be put up for sale,” Wyden said.
BPA is part of the U.S. Department of Energy, but is self funding. It markets wholesale electric power, mostly from 31 hydroelectric dams in the Columbia River Basin and the Energy Northwest nuclear power plant near Richland. It operates15,000 circuit-miles of high voltage transmission lines and about 261 substations, serving an estimated 12 million people.
The Northwest Energy Coalition – an alliance of environmental, civic and other organizations supporting energy efficiency and new renewable resources – also condemned the proposal.
“At a time when economic and environmental priorities point to the need for greater integration and efficiency in electricity generation and transmission, this proposal goes in the opposite direction by threatening to fragment the Northwest energy system and increase costs for customers, said Wendy Gerlitz, the coalition’s policy director.
Because BPA is self-supporting, any revenue from the sale of transmission assets would be a one-time fix, said Fred Heutte, senior policy associate at the commission, in response to reports that the sale of assets is proposed to help offset the federal deficit.
“I successfully fought Republican’s efforts more than a decade ago to privatize Bonneville Power, and I will fight this misguided attempt,” Wyden said.
Annually the presidential administration proposes a budget for the next fiscal year starting Oct. 1, but Congress sets the final budget.