Lawmakers: DOE Go Slow on PMAs

By Steven Johnson | ECT Staff Writer Published: June 17th, 2012

A bipartisan group of Capital Hill lawmakers is scrutinizing plans to overhaul the agencies that market federal hydropower. (Photo By: Bonneville Power Administration)

A bipartisan group of lawmakers is urging Energy Secretary Steven Chu to listen to Congress, electric cooperatives and others before he proceeds with ambitious plans to remake the federal power marketing administrations.

Forty senators and 126 House members from both parties cautioned Chu in a June 5 letter that his initiatives should not divert the PMAs from their longstanding role as low-cost providers of power.

“We have heard from numerous public power utilities, rural electric cooperatives and local officials in our states who are troubled by the potential cost impacts of these directives and by a perceived expansion of the role of the PMAs beyond their current statutory authority,” the letter said.

Traditionally, the four federal PMAs market hydroelectricity to customers such as co-ops and municipal utilities that paid to build and maintain the dams that produce the power.

Chu wants the agencies to go well beyond that by designing rate structures to promote electric cars, responding to threats ranging from cyber security to solar flares, expanding transmission, and serving as “test beds” for research.

Legislators said those might be laudable goals, but warned Chu that he offered them in a March 16 directive without input from PMA customers.

That’s important because 40 million Americans and 1,100 electric utilities rely on federal hydropower for affordable and reliable electricity, * the letter noted (large file, 1.7 MB).

“These proposals also constitute a fundamental shift away from regional planning, and the understanding of local needs and impacts which come with it, toward a Washington, D.C.-based, top-down approach,” the lawmakers said.

Lead authors of the letter were Sens. Tim Johnson, D-S.D., and Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, and Reps. Paul Gosar, R-Ariz., and Jim Matheson, D-Utah.

“This plan deviates from the federal power agencies’ mission, adds new layers of bureaucracy, and will adversely affect regional electric reliability,” Gosar said in a statement accompanying release of the letter.

The House already has taken action to block the PMA changes. A provision in the fiscal 2013 energy and water spending bill passed on June 6 bars the use of funds to implement Chu’s directive.

However, Chu announced May 30 that the Energy Department will convent six meetings of stakeholders in the territory of the Western Area Power Administration to kick off the reform process.

*The signatures of Senator Lindsey Graham, Congressman Tim Scott and Congressman Jim Clyburn are among those on the letter.

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