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Public Statements

Making Further Continuing Appropriations for Fiscal Year 2003

Location: Washington, DC

Jan. 23, 2003


Ms. CANTWELL. Mr. President, I support the amendment offered by my colleague, Senator Larry Craig, which I am proud to cosponsor along with the entire Northwest delegation. This amendment would provide an additional $700 million in borrowing authority for the Bonneville Power Administration, BPA, which will allow the agency to make much-needed improvements in our region's transmission grid, modernizing lines and reducing bottlenecks. The borrowing authority will also allow BPA to fund new conservation and renewable energy initiatives and make improvements at existing hydroelectric facilities, to make them more efficient and fish friendly.

This amendment is consistent with current law, advances many of our shared, bipartisan energy policy goals, and represents a sound investment for U.S. taxpayers. I would also point out to my colleagues that this amendment is similar to legislation passed as part of the Senate energy bill last spring, which contained $1.3 billion in additional BPA borrowing authority. Further, it is consistent with the President's budget request for Fiscal Year 2003, which provided $700 million for this purpose.

The Bonneville Power Administration—created in 1937 under the Bonneville Project Act—has historically been one of the primary economic engines of the Pacific Northwest. Today, BPA owns and operates 75 percent of the high-voltage transmission system in the region, consistent with principles of non-discriminatory open access. My colleagues may be interested to learn that among BPA's various statutory responsibilities included in the Pacific Northwest Power Planning and Conservation Act of 1980 is that the agency must "assure the Pacific Northwest of an adequate, efficient, economical and reliable power supply."

Even more specifically, the Federal Columbia River Transmission System Act of 1974 stipulates that the BPA Administrator "shall operate and maintain the Federal transmission system within the Pacific Northwest and shall construct improvements, betterments, and additions and replacements of such system within the Pacific Northwest as he determines are appropriate and required to: .    .    . maintain the electrical stability and electrical reliability of the Federal system .    .    ."

The additional borrowing authority provided in this amendment will enable Bonneville to uphold these crucial responsibilities. It is also important to note that this infrastructure investment is one for which U.S. taxpayers would be repayed, with interest. As my colleagues may know, BPA makes payment to the U.S. Treasury on an annual basis—from revenues it collects from northwest ratepayers. BPA expenditures thus do not place any long-term burden on appropriated or trust fund activities. Indeed, the principal on all BPA capital-borrowing costs is fully repaid, with legally-required, market-determined interest.

Like most of the country, transmission investment in the northwest has lagged behind demand. No major new transmission lines have been constructed in our region since 1987. In the meantime, Northwest loads have been growing steadily at a rate of 1.8 percent per year. This load growth, combined with deregulation of wholesale power markets, has given rise to a 2 percent per year rise in traffic on the transmission system.

In addition, the Northwest Power Pool has estimated that winter peak load will have grown from 59,972 megawatts in 1998 to 66,952 megawatts by 2008 or, by 12 percent. But at the present rate of transmission investment—without the improvements this amendment will allow—the system will have grown from only 61,415 circuit miles in 1998 to 62,325 circuit miles in 2008—or, by 2 percent. In short, regional transmission is not keeping up with load growth.

To remedy this situation—and in keeping with its statutory obligations—BPA has identified 26 groups of needed transmission projects, for construction and energization over the next 5 to 6 years. The first nine, some of which are already underway, would address the most critically constrained pathways in our area.

The construction of additional transmission will reduce existing bottlenecks, reinforce the system to assure minimal conformance with reliability standards for major load centers such as Seattle, Portland and Spokane, and ultimately allow the integration of more than 5,000 megawatts of new generation. I would also like to point out that this amendment will aid in the acquisition of new conservation and renewable energy sources, as well as make capital improvements on the 31-project federal hydroelectric system—all of which are extremely important components of BPA's multi-faceted public purposes.

This amendment will enhance the reliability of the northwest electricity grid—and, by extension, the western transmission system as a whole. It is consistent with the missions this body set out for the Bonneville Power Administration, dating back to 1937 and in the legislative history spanning the 66 intervening years. And it represents good energy policy today, which is why FERC Chairman Pat Wood—in hearings before the Senate Energy Committee last year—voiced his strong support for an increase in BPA borrowing authority.

I thank Senator Craig for bringing this amendment to the floor today, as well as all of my Northwest colleagues. I believe it has been a tremendous team effort that has spanned both a couple of years and the jurisdictions of the Senate Energy, Budget and of course Appropriations Committees. I would also like to thank the Chairmen and Ranking Members of those Committees for their support today.

Again, I urge my colleagues to support this amendment.

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