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Proposed Privatization of Public Power System Met with Criticism

by Countable | 7.28.17

What’s the story?

On the table in the administration’s budget is a proposal to sell-off large parts of the federal government’s energy transmission infrastructure to private companies, including the Pacific Northwest’s Bonneville Power Administration (BPA). Opinions of the plan in Congress and among citizens differs. Critics fear cost increases when profit becomes a goal, while supporters look to the innovation and operational efficiency that they believe will come with privatization.

Why does it matter?

The Columbia River and its tributaries, which spans 300,000 square miles, involves a complex system of 31 hydroelectric dams, 299 substations, 15,000 miles of transmission lines, all overseen by the BPA. The BPA provides power to 12 million people. Along with two other systems in Colorado and Oklahoma, the Trump administration has proposed selling off the transmission infrastructure to raise $4.9 billion dollars for the federal government.

The New York Times published an extensive report about the questions those working on and around the Columbia River have about the plan. Terry Oxley, a tugboat captain on the river wondered how it would actually all work and wanted to be involved in the planning:

"I guess I want more input. Who’s going to control it? Who’s going to have the say so? When are they going to release the water, the flood control, the spill patterns for the fish? It’s such a big deal, and it’s all intertwined."

Native tribes who were catastrophically affected by the building of the dams wonder how they will fit in the plans. Jaime A. Pinkham, the executive director of the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission and a member of the Nez Percé tribe told the Times:

"Obligations are tied to the federal relationship. When you privatize, what happens to the voice of the Indian people?”

But not all folks connected to the BPA oppose the plan. Citizens in southeast Oregon who’ve worked hard to develop infrastructure for harnessing wind power have seen their payments for power supply cut-off when the river is running high. Kate McCullough, a farmer in Sherman County, OR who depends on those power payments to balance out fluctuations in wheat prices, welcomes the idea of new management:

"The BPA does a terrible job. I don’t know that privatizing would be bad at all."

The Oregon congressional delegation is split on the administration’s plan. Republican Representative Greg Walden’s office offered this statement to OregonLive:

"The initiatives modernizing our energy infrastructure and promoting our nation's energy abundance would undoubtedly make positive impacts on our constituents' lives. The president's proposals show the difficult choices facing the country as we work to reduce the deficit, protect our security, and grow jobs."

In contrast, Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden opposes the plan. It’s come up, on and off, since the Reagan administration and Wyden’s worked to block it throughout his congressional tenure:

"I successfully fought Republicans' efforts more than a decade ago to privatize Bonneville Power, and I will fight this misguided attempt. Public power customers in the Pacific Northwest have paid for the system and their investment should not be put up for sale."

What can you do?

What are your questions about how a public/private utility partnership would work for these western energy systems? Should the federal government be allowed to sell off these assets? What protections, if any, for citizens should be involved in the deals if they proceed?

Use the Take Action button to tell your reps what you think!

— Asha Sanaker

(Photo Credit: Wikimedia / Creative Commons)

Countable

Written by Countable

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(148)
  • JayFeat
    07/28/2017
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    There's a reason this was in government hands in the first place. Corporations prioritize profit and not people, and that's why it's a bad idea to sell or give away public lands.

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  • Kyle
    07/28/2017
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    Privatization doesn't work when there's zero competition! Just look at the privatization of prisons.

    Like (42)
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  • Leo
    07/28/2017
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    It's called a public utility for a reason.

    Like (35)
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  • Linda
    07/28/2017
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    No. Privatization is not what citizens want. Oppose the selling of federal properties.

    Like (28)
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  • Madeline
    07/28/2017
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    Is nothing safe from 45, he would sell his mother to build his damn wall! He has already sold his soul....no privatization means higher cost because it becomes for profit!

    Like (26)
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  • Peggy
    07/28/2017
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    Absolutely not! PUBLIC utilities.

    Like (21)
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  • Ticktock
    07/28/2017
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    Critical infrastructure should not be controlled by the private sector business. If improvements or maintenance is needed maybe the tax payers should foot the bill rather than turning their fate over to a for profit entity that can increase charges at will and fail to maintain without notice.

    Like (17)
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  • Lawrence
    07/28/2017
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    Foreign companies and or government may end up owning our infrastructures.

    Like (16)
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  • KansasTamale
    07/29/2017
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    This is what's wrong with ALL the utilities. Utilities are supposed to be FOR THE PEOPLE, NOT for profit. In my state the utilities are all for profit. We hate it. We used $1.54 worth of gas last month, but we had to pay $27.60 for it due to delivery fee-how did they deliver that gas???- Service charge- we got NO SERVICE- and another charge plus a small tax. The electric company is the same way. It's ridiculous that we HAVE to pay for the fuel to make our electricity., and then the electricity & then pay more to have it DELIVERED??? How do they deliver electricity that it costs a % of the electricity we use???? They have to make s profit or their boards have s fit. When did public utilities become privatized?? Leave this electricity generator the way it is.

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  • Jane
    07/28/2017
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    Privitization is always the GOP go to and it never helps regular Americans.

    Like (11)
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  • Milan
    07/29/2017
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    Absolutely NOT! A country cannot be run like a business - we've already seen that - businesses are about greed and their responsibility to their stockholders - which is NOT the same thing as responsibility to American families. A corporation does not care about the common man

    Like (9)
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  • Joyce
    07/29/2017
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    I strongly oppose this. As my Grandfather, father, husband and his family before him not only helped build damns, but worked on them as well. These power plants were built with taxpayers dollars, if we privatize these power plants some questions need answering: 1) Who will be allowed to purchase these 2) Will overseas investors monies be used 3) Who decides when the waters will be released and the amount 4) will they get to regulate the cost of electricity & how will that impact the consumer 5) will shares be sold on the stock exchange 6) will taxpayers in the area get shares 7)who is going to harden the grid from sunspots & attacks from space i.e. Let's say a small hydrogen or atomic bomb was detonated in space it would automatically give an electrical impulse which would bring down the grid 8) plus they would be selling it pennies on the dollar. 9) if a damn begins to fail as with the Oroville damn are the private investors mandated to repair it or will they get the government to bail them out. Thanks to our Governor Brown, he took it upon himself to push light rail through when that money was earmarked for the express purpose of fixing CA dams & levies. please get back to the public with the answers before moving forward.

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  • Dawn
    07/28/2017
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    NO privatization of Public Utilities!

    Like (8)
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  • Daniel
    07/28/2017
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    NO WAY! There's a reason these are in government hands in the first place. Corporations prioritize profit and not people, and that's why it's a bad idea to sell or give away public lands or public utilities!!!! This includes the United STATES POSTAL SERVICE!!!! Privatization will only benefit the corporations NOT the public!!!

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  • Karen
    07/29/2017
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    No, no, and no. The first priority of private enterprise is profit. With no competition, private electric companies can jack up rates without restraint. The federal government built Bonneville Dam and other public structures with public money. Those dams are OURS. We the people don't give our permission to sell them.

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  • Seth
    07/28/2017
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    just say no

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  • James
    07/28/2017
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    Stop privatizing everything. Not everything works better or in the nations best interest when it's privatized.

    Like (6)
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  • Cherilee
    07/29/2017
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    Privatization only leads to increase prices and corruption regarding public universal needs. You are voting money over people's benefit. Quit BS

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  • Jim2423
    07/29/2017
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    This is not "new news", it has been brought up before. When other entities see what they would have to pay for with the operation of federal dams, they all back out. Examples; fish population, oxygen content of falling water below the dams, every EPA and DEQ requirement, flood controls, river transportation. These are just a few. Ask yourself why are there more federal dams on rivers than private entities? Because no one really wanted to pay for what it would cost to construct versus returns.

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  • Carol
    07/29/2017
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    Stop selling off our country piece by piece - more fascist behavior from the White House.

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