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Jon Talton

Analysis and commentary on economic news, trends and issues, with an emphasis on Seattle and the Northwest.

Topic: Bonneville Power Administration

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July 16, 2013 at 10:39 AM

The long arm of Bonneville gets slapped

The most interesting story in today’s Seattle Times is Lynda V. Mapes look at a property owner trying to save a historic site along the Columbia River from a new power line proposed by the Bonneville Power Administration. A BPA contractor has already bulldozed a Yakima burial cairn — a “mistake” among “bumps in the road,” a spokeswoman for the agency conceded. Meanwhile, land owner Robert Zornes and his wife, “two uneducated, lower- middle-class people in Forks,” have marshaled resistance that has held up the new transmission line for more than a year.

This isn’t the only headache facing the federal agency. According to the Washington Post, the Energy Department has placed the top two officials of the BPA on administrative leave “after they retaliated against a half-dozen employees who were helping an inspector general inquiry about hiring practices.” You can read the Inspector General’s interim report here.

A quick primer for non-mossbacks: The Bonneville Power Administration was created during the New Deal to market power from Bonneville Dam on the Columbia and extend rural electrification throughout the Northwest. Although not as consequential or far reaching, BPA was a distant cousin of the Tennessee Valley Authority. Bonneville Dam and Grand Coulee Dam were among the signature projects that provided jobs during the Great Depression and built infrastructure that remains essential today (others, besides the TVA, included Hoover Dam on the Colorado River). In 1940, BPA  snagged Alcoa as an industrial customer, with hydroelectric power providing for inexpensive aluminum production. Aluminum is used to built planes. The rest is history.


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