Trump’s Sale of WAPA & BPA Lines is a Lead Balloon

23 May 2017

The Trump Administration’s proposed 2018 federal budget, released May 23, puts a for sale sign on federally-owned power lines in the West.

However, selling the transmission assets of the Western Area Power Administration, the Bonneville Power Administration, and the Southwestern Power Administration will face major resistance from federal lawmakers from the West and Northwest.

Carl Zichella, NRDC director of western transmission, said the proposed sell off of public transmission will be dead on arrival. He noted strong opposition, including from WAPA’s preference customers, which include “small coops and utilities entitled to energy and water from its projects – whose payments over the years have funded much of WAPA’s infrastructure.”

The President also proposes gutting many consumer and climate-friendly programs, from weatherization for low-income residents to clean energy research and development.

“Whether it is attacking low-income energy assistance programs, blowing up innovation research at EPA or defunding clean coal programs, the Trump budget seems designed to outrage almost every constituency on Capitol Hill,” Zichella noted.

The transmission sell off is attributed to free market advocates at the Heritage Institute and Cato Institute, who claim it would reduce the federal deficit.

That assertion was refuted.

“Because BPA is a self-supporting business and makes annual payments to the federal government to pay down its debt, any revenue from the sale of its transmission assets would be a one-time fix,” said Fred Heutte, senior policy associate at the NW Energy Coalition.

The sale also would be bad for transmission efficiency.

“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,” warned Wendy Gerlitz, NW Energy Coalition policy director.

This is not the first time a sell off of western power lines has been proposed. It was floated during the Reagan Administration at the height of free market and deregulation mania. That proposed sale was defeated.

The budget proposal also would repeal WAPA’s $3.25 billion emergency borrowing authority.

WAPA referred budget questions to the Department of Energy.

Elizabeth McCarthy

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