This article was published on: 09/15/22 10:31 AM

An 8.7 percent bump in the Bonneville Power Administration’s Fish and Wildlife budget in fiscal year 2024-25 is the largest increase for fish and wildlife since 2010. The increase will give the power marketing agency, which pays for the Northwest Power and Conservation Council’s Columbia River Basin Fish and Wildlife Program, more flexibility to “get things done.”

That’s according to BPA Administrator and CEO John Hairston, briefing the Council this week on power, transmission, conservation and fish and wildlife issues facing the agency.

Since January 2018, when it issued a strategic plan with an objective to hold agency costs at or below the rate of inflation through 2028, BPA’s fish and wildlife program expenditures have remained nearly constant.

In April, the Council notified BPA that its flat funding plan is degrading the region’s Columbia River Basin Fish and Wildlife program and insisted that it address the issue to protect what it called “productive work.”

“Now the focus needs to be in terms of how we can improve programmatic results,” Hairston said.

He also said that the pause in litigation granted by a federal court until September 2023 will “keep us for a time out of the courtroom” and give BPA and its other regional fish and wildlife partners “space to determine long term solutions.”

U.S. District Court Judge Michael H. Simon in August agreed to a request by the Biden Administration and plaintiffs to extend for another year the stay in the litigation challenging the federal government’s environmental impact statement and biological opinion for Columbia/Snake river salmon and steelhead. The parties wanted more time to identify “comprehensive” solutions to basin salmon recovery.

A stay, according to the filing by the federal government and plaintiffs, would give parties time to “continue working toward solutions that have the potential to resolve all claims in this litigation.”

BPA, along with states and tribes, is also negotiating a three-year extension of the Columbia Basin Fish Accords. The Accords are fish and wildlife projects implemented by tribes and states and funded by BPA revenues outside the Council’s Program. Hairston said the Accords end September 30.

The Accords were extended in 2018 for four years after a 10-year agreement from 2008. Signing on to the 4-year extension in 2018 were the states of Idaho and Montana, the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation, the Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs Reservation of Oregon, the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, the Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation, the Shoshone Bannock Tribes of the Fort Hall Reservation, and the Columbia River Inter-tribal Fish Commission, along with BPA, the Bureau of Reclamation and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The 4-year agreement set aside more than $400 million for fish and wildlife mitigation and protection.

Hairston said of the extension talks that this is not a time for negotiating new Accords, but simply to agree on the three-year extension.

BPA is currently in a position of financial strength. Through the first three quarters of the Bonneville Power Administration’s fiscal year and with the year ending at the end of this month, the power marketing agency is celebrating net revenues nearly five times what it had budgeted for the year.

BPA is predicting a net revenue by the end of its fiscal year of $836 million. That’s compared to a rate case net revenue forecast of $178 million. The new $836 million net revenue projection has grown $270 million since BPA’s mid-year forecast. Both BPA’s Power and Transmission business lines are expected to finish fiscally stronger than originally projected, the agency said.

“Bonneville continues to reap the benefits of higher than normal market prices for power and an almost ideal volume and runoff shape to the river,” Hairston said in a news release. “If this trend continues through the remaining three months, this will be BPA’s strongest financial year since 2006.”

Hairston joined BPA in 1991, serving as chief operating officer and chief administrative officer before being named administrator and CEO in January 2021. He is responsible for managing the nonprofit federal agency that markets carbon-free power from Columbia River hydroelectric dams and the region’s one nuclear plant. BPA also operates most of the high-voltage power grid across the Pacific Northwest, distributing renewable energy to the region and beyond.

With this strong financial projection and with just one month remaining in the fiscal year, it looks highly likely that BPA’s reserves distribution clause will activate for both Power and Transmission, a BPA news release says. The RDC is a process for determining the distribution of financial reserves to purposes determined by the administrator. The process, outlined in the General Rate Schedule Provisions, states the administrator determines what part, if any, will be applied to debt reduction, incremental capital investment, rate reduction, or any other purposes.

“We are pleased to be in this position of very strong top-line and bottom-line financial performance that will likely lead to the reserves distribution clause triggering for both Power and Transmission and be able to pass back the benefits of this solid financial year in some form to our customers,” said Chief Financial Officer Marcus Harris in the news release. While most of the financial news for BPA is overwhelmingly positive, inflation, higher interest rates, supply chain constraints and the start of a new water year loom.

“Barring an unexpected setback, this year looks like it will be among BPA’s financially strongest,” said Harris. “However, we start this process over in October. A new fiscal year will bring a new set of opportunities and challenges and requires a refocus to again manage the bottom lines of both the Power and Transmission business lines.”

BPA, headquartered in Portland, is a nonprofit federal power marketer that sells wholesale, carbon-free hydropower from 31 federal dams in the Columbia River Basin. It also markets the output of the region’s only nuclear plant. BPA delivers this power to more than 140 Northwest electric utilities, serving millions of consumers and businesses in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, western Montana and parts of California, Nevada, Utah and Wyoming. BPA also owns and operates more than 15,000 circuit miles of high-voltage power lines and 261 substations and provides transmission service to more than 300 customers. In all, BPA provides nearly a third of the power generated in the Northwest. To mitigate the impacts of the federal dams, BPA implements a fish and wildlife program that includes working with its partners to make the federal dams safer for fish passage. It also pursues cost-effective energy savings and operational solutions that help maintain safe, affordable, reliable electric power for the Northwest.