Down the mighty columbia river, where a power struggle looms
July 31, 2017
To ride down the Columbia River as the John Day Dam’s wall of concrete slowly fills the view from a tugboat is to see what the country’s largest network of energy-producing dams created through five decades of 20th-century ambition, investment and hubris.
Nearly half of the nation’s hydropower electricity comes from more than 250 hydropower dams that were built on the Columbia and its tributaries — a vast and complex arc of industry and technology that touches tens of millions of lives across the West every day.
Now, the Trump administration has proposed rethinking the entire system, with a plan to sell the transmission network of wires and substations owned by the Bonneville Power Administration, a federal agency that distributes most of the Columbia basin’s output, to private buyers.
The idea is part of a package of proposals that would transform much of the infrastructure in the United States to a mixture of public and private partnerships, lowering costs to taxpayers and improving efficiency, administration officials said. Assets of two other big public power operators, based in Colorado and Oklahoma, would be sold, too, if Congress approves the measure.