Please join us for Law Seminar International's Columbia River Treaty Conference, which will be held here in Seattle on September 22 & 23, 2014. The conference is particularly timely because, as we've discussed at length here, September marks a critical turning point for the Treaty, which is one of the cornerstones of our regional economy, and a major factor in issues ranging from salmon restoration to water quality and flood control. We're pleased to announce that GTH partner Jim Waldo will co-chair the conference and GTH partner Eric Christensen will be speaking. We hope to see you there!
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"September 16: Pivot Point for the Columbia River Treaty and the Future of the Columbia River Basin": Eric Christensen Publishes Article in "The Water Report"
We're proud to announce that GTH partner Eric Christensen has published an article in the July 2014 issue of The Water Report, one of the most respected trade journals among water resource professionals. We've inserted the text below:
AND THE FUTURE OF THE COLUMBIA RIVER BASIN
The Columbia River is the flowing heart of the Pacific Northwest's economy and environment. Major industries including hydroelectric power, irrigation, fisheries, recreation and navigation all depend upon the River. The River supports iconic salmon and steelhead runs that are central to native cultures throughout the Columbia River Basin. While the River is the lifeblood of dozens of communities lining its shores, it can be a grave danger to these same communities, as destructive floods in, for example, 1896 and 1948, demonstrate.
Managing the river to support multiple, often-competing uses, while managing floods and protecting water quality, presents mammoth challenges. Adding to these challenges is the fact that the Columbia Basin occupies two countries, flowing for several hundred miles through Canada before entering the United States. For the last fifty years, the Columbia River Treaty ("CRT") has governed water storage, flood control, and power operations on the Columbia, with profound effects on both sides of the border.
A key treaty milestone is fast approaching: September 16, 2014, marks the first time since 1964 that the parties can provide notice of their intent to terminate the CRT. Anticipating this milestone, extensive consultation processes have been carried out on both sides of the border to develop recommendations on whether the CRT should be terminated or continued and, if continued, under what terms. Within the last few months, the consultations have been completed and recommendations submitted to the federal governments on both sides of the border. Comparing these recommendations reveals that a broad consensus that the CRT should be modernized, but little agreement on what modernization means. How and whether these competing views are resolved will have profound effects throughout the Columbia Basin for decades to come.
THE TREATY AND DEVELOPMENT OF THE COLUMBIA BASIN
The CRT is a product of an era when rivers were viewed in utilitarian terms, and primacy was placed on development to maximize their hydroelectric capacity and navigation potential. On the U.S. side of the border, the idea of comprehensive river development dates to 1925, when Congress amended the Rivers and Harbors Act to require the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers ("COE") to conduct "multiple-use studies on the nation's rivers." The COE completed its study of the Columbia in 1932 and, facing the specter of Depression-era poverty, President Franklin Roosevelt seized upon construction of the Grand Coulee and Bonneville Dams as a means to spur economic development by creating abundant, inexpensive electricity and irrigating the vast Columbia Plateau.
With the completion of Grand Coulee in 1942, attention turned to the next logical site for construction of a major dam, at Libby, Montana. But the Libby dam would flood over forty miles of the Kootenay Valley in British Columbia, making construction an international issue. Then, in 1948, a major Columbia River flood destroyed Vanport, then the second-largest city in Oregon, killing fifteen people. Flood control had not been a major consideration in early planning efforts, but the Vanport flood dramatically highlighted the need for flood storage. But potential dam sites on the U.S. side of the border offered relatively limited opportunities for storage, creating another international issue.
On the Canadian side of the border, similar pressures for river development were unfolding, culminating in the election of WAC Bennett as Premier of British Columbia in 1952. Bennett would serve for two decades, easily the longest tenure of any B.C. Premier. Bennett advocated for broad-scale development of British Columbia's natural resources, including its vast water resources. He advanced a "Two Rivers Policy," with major hydroelectric and water storage reservoirs to be constructed on the Columbia and Peace Rivers, and created the British Columbia Hydro and Power Authority ("BC Hydro") to carry out this work. Further, quirks of hydrology and topography mean that 50% of the Basin's flood storage capacity lies in Canada even though only 15% of the Basin's area lies north of the border. It thus became clear to both sides that agreement on a framework for River development between the two countries was necessary.
For much of this period, beginning in 1943, the two countries cooperatively studied Columbia River development through the International Joint Commission. The Commission's plan, finally delivered in 1959, laid the groundwork for comprehensive development of the River and for the CRT, which was finalized in 1961.
THE FUNDAMENTAL BARGAIN OF THE COLUMBIA RIVER TREATY
The CRT addresses a basic fact of Columbia River geography: Storage on the River is concentrated in Canada, while hydropower production is concentrated in the United States. For this reason, flood control in the United States depends heavily on storage operations in Canada. Further, there is a strong interdependence between Canadian and U.S. hydroelectric dams operating on the same river. Hence, the CRT can best be understood as encapsulating two basic principles. First, Canada provides flood control benefits to the United States and the United States pays Canada for these benefits. Second, coordinated operation of Canada's storage reservoirs, carried out by the bi-national Permanent Engineering Board, allows power output from dams in the United States to be optimized, and the countries split the benefits of this additional downstream power. Canada's share of these downstream power benefits is known as the "Canadian Entitlement."
With these principles established, the CRT paved the way for four major dams, three in Canada and one in the United States. The three Canadian dams (Mica, Arrow/Keenleyside, and Duncan) would create 15.5 million acre-feet ("MAF") of storage. The United States was authorized to construct Libby Dam on the Kootenai River in Montana, with nearly 5 MAF of storage.
The CRT did not provide financing for the Canadian dams, which created a stumbling block for treaty ratification in Canada. Recognizing that power from the Canadian dams would not be needed in British Columbia for decades, WAC Bennett suggested that the power could be sold to utilities in the United States. A large group of Pacific Northwest utilities took up this offer, agreeing in the Columbia Power Storage Exchange Agreement ("CPSE") to pay approximately $254 million for the first thirty years of the Canadian Entitlement. The CSPE thus financed construction of the Canadian dams, removing the final barrier to ratification of the CRT. On September 16, 1964, in a ceremony at the Peace Arch International Park attended by a crowd of 10,000, U.S. President Lyndon Johnson and Canadian Prime Minister Lester Pearson signed the CRT, the culmination of a two-decade effort to create a bi-national plan for development of the River.
The parties agreed that the CRT should remain in place for no less than sixty years and, after that, would continue unless terminated, with ten years' notice required for termination. Thus, September 16, 2014, is a critical date for the CRT. This is the first date upon which either side can provide the required ten-year notice of termination upon expiration of the CRT's 60-year minimum term, which runs through September 16, 2024.
In preparation for September 16, the the COE and the Bonneville Power Administration ("BPA")(referred to jointly as the "U.S. Entity" in CRT parlance) have conducted extensive technical studies and, as noted above, broad outreach programs to determine whether to seek termination, modification, or other changes to the CRT. The Government of British Columbia had carried out a similar undertaking north of the border.
UPDATING THE CRT
The CRT is a product of its times, focusing almost exclusively on acre-feet of storage and megawatt-hours of power. To Twenty-First Century readers, the most striking feature of the CRT is its failure to even mention fisheries, wildlife, water quality, and the other environmental issues, whether in the context of national environmental policy or Native American rights. As those involved in Pacific Northwest water and power issues are well aware, since the passage of landmark legislation such as the Endangered Species Act and Clean Water Act in the 1970s, the region has struggled mightily to maintain the enormous economic benefits provided by the Columbia Basin dams while recovering endangered salmon and steelhead runs, improving water quality, and meeting other mandates arising from modern environmental legislation. And, as discussed below, landmark court rulings on both sides of the border have greatly expanded the role Native American tribes play in natural resources and environmental policy.
Hence, it is not surprising that the consultation processes on both sides of the border resulted in recommendations that ecosystem values be recognized and integrated into the CRT. On the U.S. side, the U.S. Entity Regional Recommendation for the Future of the Columbia River Treaty After 2024 ("U.S. Recommendation"), adopted in December 2013, concludes that "ecosystem-based functions" should be a recognized, shared value of the CRT. On the Canadian side, the Columbia River Treaty Review B.C. Decision ("B.C. Recommendation"), adopted in March 2014, also espouses the principle that ecosystem benefits should be recognized, accounted for, and equitably shared between the two countries. But exactly what is included in "ecosystem functions" and how those functions should be treated in the CRT is largely left to the imagination.
On other issues, the Recommendations diverge. Each side claims that the CRT in its current form provides inadequate compensation to that side and that the other side receives excessive benefits. The Recommendations reflect a similar gulf between the two countries on an array critical issues. These include:
Upon ratification of the CRT in 1964, the United States made a one-time payment to Canada of $64.4 million for defined flood control benefits for the sixty-year period ending in 2024 using the 15.5 MAF of storage constructed under the CRT. After 2024, the CRT's flood control regime changes substantially, even if the Treaty is not modified. Rather than providing defined flood control benefits, flood control will be based upon ill-defined treaty provisions requiring Canada to provide flood control when "called upon" by the United States, but only after the United States makes "effective use" of its own storage reservoirs for flood management. If the U.S. calls upon Canada for flood control, the U.S. must pay both the direct costs and opportunity costs, in the form of forgone power production, incurred by Canada for flood control operations. The CRT does not, however, provide specifics as to how any of these terms are defined, and it has become clear that the two sides interpret the terms differently.
An examination of the Recommendations reveals fundamentally different views about how flood management should be handled after 2024. Perhaps the most obvious difference lies in basic flood management objectives. The B.C. Recommendation advocates a 600,000 cubic feet per second ("cfs") flood control target, while the U.S. Recommendation argues the existing flood control target, 450,000 cfs, should be retained. The lower target, 450,000 cfs, is considered the threshold at which flood damage begins to occur on the U.S. portion of the River. By contrast, 600,000 cfs is the threshold at which major flood damage starts to occur. Adoption of the 600,000 cfs target, then, implies that the United States would have to make substantial investments in flood management or bear increased costs from flood damage if the Canadian Recommendations on this issue are adopted.
The flood control regime adopted after 2024 could also substantially limit the use of U.S. reservoir storage capacity to support irrigation and other current river uses. Studies conducted by the U.S. Entity suggest that "effective use" of U.S. storage capacity will require reservoirs to be drawn down more often and to lower levels than they are now, which could impair the ability of those reservoirs to meet irrigation demands, as well as demands for navigation, fisheries, and other in-river uses. The magnitude of these impacts depends heavily upon how "effective use" is defined. In addition, these impacts are substantially greater if the U.S. maintains a 450,000 cfs flood management target for flood management, rather than shifting to a 600,000 cfs target. On the other hand, reducing reliance on Canadian storage reservoirs will require less fluctuation of reservoir levels and fewer drawdowns, reducing associated impacts on navigation, recreation, and dust levels (from exposed reservoir sediments) in the Canadian portion of the Basin.
The Canadian Entitlement and Power Production
While flood control under the CRT may change drastically in 2024, the same is not true of river coordination. Unless the CRT is terminated or renegotiated, coordinated river operations will continue much as they have under the Treaty to date. From the U.S. perspective, this is problematic because the CRT includes at least two outdated assumptions. First, treaty negotiators assumed that regional base-load generation would increasingly be supplied by coal- and nuclear-fired plants, with hydro shifting to meet peak demands, but construction of thermal plants fell far short of those expectations. Second, the CRT does not recognize constraints arising from U.S. environmental laws such as the Endangered Species Act. As a result, the Canadian Entitlement is now out of line with the actual benefits of coordinated river operation, creating substantial costs for the United States. The U.S. Entity estimates that, for the period from August 2010 to July 2011, the "Canadian Entitlement" provided 535.7 megawatts ("MW") of annual average energy to Canada, delivered at rates up to 1,316 MW, valued at between $250 million and $350 million annually.
But, according to a U.S. Entity study, fisheries conservation requirements have reduced the output of the U.S. hydro system by 1520 to 1655 MW on an annual average, and the benefits of coordinated river operation have fallen accordingly. If the Treaty were terminated, with the resulting loss of coordinated river operations, the study concluded that output of the U.S. hydro system would drop by about 90-94 MW on an annual average, when environmental constraints are accounted for. This represents less than one percent of the output of the U.S. system. By contrast, the study estimated the Canadian Entitlement in 2024 would be about 470 average MW using the current CRT calculation. Accordingly, the U.S. Recommendation concludes that "Canada is deriving substantially greater value from coordinated power operations than the United States," and "rebalancing" the Canadian Entitlement is necessary.
The B.C. Recommendation, by contrast, argues that the Canadian Entitlement is the sole form of compensation currently operating under the CRT, and that the level of benefits provided does not reflect the "full range" of "impacts in British Columbia." In particular, British Columbia has argued that the U.S. receives huge flood control benefits, with avoided damages in the billions of dollars. On the other hand, the burdens created by the CRT have fallen disproportionately on Southeast British Columbia, where 231 square miles of valley bottom land were flooded, communities displaced, and economies disrupted by construction of the three Canadian CRT dams. With expiration of the CSPE in the mid-1990s, the Canadian Entitlement began flowing back to Canada and B.C.'s Parliament directed that funds from the Canadian Entitlement be used to fund the Columbia Basin Trust, which funds mitigation of impacts of dam construction and operation in southeast British Columbia.
Reducing the Canadian Entitlement, as the U.S. Entity recommends, would thus reduce funding for mitigation efforts in the most heavily affected regions of British Columbia, creating a potentially serious political conflict. One solution may be to direct U.S. payments for flood control to the Columbia Basin Trust. The U.S. Entity estimates that compensation for lost hydropower production would be in the range of $4 million to $34 million for each time Canada is requested to assist with flood management under the "called upon" regime.
A similar disconnect between costs and beneficiaries also exists on the U.S. side of the border. The costs of the Canadian Entitlement are borne by BPA, and therefore ultimately fall upon BPA's power customers, primarily public power entities such as Public Utility Districts, municipal power agencies, and rural electric cooperatives. But flood control primarily benefits communities along the River, and BPA power customers are, for the most part, located far from areas affected by Columbia River flooding. This divergence between beneficiaries and those who bear the costs could create strong opposition to the CRT among U.S. power interests. The U.S. Recommendation therefore suggests that "U.S. interests should ensure that costs associated with any Treaty operation are aligned with the appropriate party."
The U.S. Recommendation urges the modernized CRT to provide for "stream-flows from Canada with appropriate timing, quantity, and water quality to promote productive populations of anadromous fish," and also to provide reservoir conditions that support healthy fish and wildlife populations. The U.S. Recommendation also states that stream-flows should be part of the "long-term assurance of eco-system based function" provided by the CRT, rather than being negotiated on a yearly basis as part of annual operating plans developed by the U.S. and Canadian Entities, as currently occurs. The U.S. Recommendation also advocates a joint program to study and possibly implement fish passage at the Chief Joseph and Grand Coulee dams in order to restore anadromous fish runs in the Canadian portion of the Columbia River Basin.
The B.C. Recommendations concerning ecosystem functions are considerably less detailed, suggesting only that the CRT recognize and account for ecosystem functions, and that such functions are "an important consideration" in planning and implementing the CRT. On the issue of Grand Coulee fish passage, the B.C. Recommendation concludes that this is "not a Treaty issue" because salmon migration into Canada was eliminated at Grand Coulee in 1938, well before the CRT was ratified. Fish passage is therefore "the responsibility of each country regarding their respective infrastructure."
Both the U.S. and B.C. Recommendations urge broader recognition of benefits, including navigation, recreation, agricultural, and municipal uses. True to form, the U.S. Recommendation includes greater detail, noting that studies conducted by the U.S. Entity identified the potential for additional fall and winter storage in Canada, which could be used to support downstream irrigation, navigation, industrial, and in-stream uses in spring and summer. The B.C. Recommendation merely sets forth the principle that these are among the downstream uses that should be recognized, accounted for, and "shared equitably" between the two countries.
The difficult for CRT negotiators is, of course, that these different river uses often compete. For example, water retained in the river for navigation or devoted to municipal uses cannot be used by irrigators. Indeed, a great deal of controversy has arisen in recent decades over the use of increased flows to encourage in-stream migration of juvenile salmon because the water devoted to fish flows is generally unavailable to generate power or to support other economic uses of the River.
THE FUTURE OF THE TREATY
In both countries, the respective Recommendations have now been submitted to the each country's federal governments, and primary responsibility now lies with the U.S. Department of State and the Canadian Foreign Ministry to determine next steps. And, despite differences on specific issues, it is unlikely that either country will immediately seek to terminate the CRT. In fact, both countries recognize that the CRT has been, on the whole, a resounding success, and both Recommendations therefore argue that the CRT should be reformed, but should not be terminated. The U.S. Recommendation, however, places an important limit on this principle, suggesting, somewhat ominously, that if agreement on "key aspects of a modernized Treaty" is not attained by 2015, "other options" to modernize the CRT "should be evaluated."
The outcome of the negotiations will be strongly influenced by several factors that were not present when the CRT was originally negotiated in the 1950s and '60s. These include:
Native American Rights
Because they have been accorded improved legal and political status in the last half-century, Native Americans on both sides of the border will have much greater influence on modernization of the CRT than on the original negotiations. In the United States, court decisions such as the landmark "Boldt decision" (United States v. Washington, 384 F. Supp. 312 (W.D. Wash. 1974), aff'd, 526 F.2d 676 (9th Cir. 1975)) read treaty rights broadly, giving tribes in the United States considerable leverage over decisions involving traditional fisheries and other natural resources. In Canada, similar legal developments, culminating in the 1997 Delgamuukw decision (Delgamuukw v. British Columbia, 3 S.C.R. 1010 (1997)), accorded First Nations substantial legal rights related to land and natural resources, requiring Canadian federal and provincial governments to consult with First Nations on a nation-to-nation basis.
Both Canadian First Nations and Native American tribes in the United States view the CRT as an avenue to improve and protect salmon runs and other natural resources, as well as cultural resources on both sides of the border. It is therefore unsurprising that the Recommendations from both sides of the border contain numerous references to the need for improving protection of cultural and natural resources important to First Nations and Native American tribes.
Climate Change and Adaptive Management
Absent when the CRT was first negotiated, climate change is now the subject of ubiquitous study and political controversy. Current climate models suggest that, while overall precipitation levels in the Columbia River Basin area likely to remain relatively constant as the region's climate warms, a substantial shift in river flows will likely occur, with increasing winter flows and a smaller spring freshet as increasing amounts of winter precipitation fall as rain rather than mountain snow, especially in the U.S. portion of the Basin. If stream-flows change as predicted, significant changes in flood control, storage, and hydroelectric operations will be required. Hence, the Recommendations from both sides of the border counsel in favor of flexibility to adapt to climate-induced stream-flow changes.
The history of the CRT also suggests the need for adaptability. Much of the dissatisfaction with the CRT today arises from predictions made in the 1960s about, for example, the value of the Canadian Entitlement, that have turned out to be incorrect by a wide margin. As the Recommendations make clear, if the formulas used to calculate benefits under the CRT diverge from the actual, on-the-ground benefits provided by the CRT, political opposition will arise from interests that perceive they are being over-charged for the benefits they receive. To make the CRT politically viable over the long term, then, negotiators should concentrate on developing benefits formulas that incorporate the changing values of Treaty benefits. For example, downstream power benefits should be calculated using the regional market price indices that have developed in the power industry in the last three decades. These indices were unavailable when the CRT was originally negotiated, but now can be incorporated into the Treaty as a means to ensure that power benefits reflect the changing value of power over time, and therefore keep power-related benefit payments in line with actual value of the power generated or transferred.
Future Duration of the Treaty
Another issue raised by the Recommendations is the duration the CRT after 2024. Neither Recommendation endorses a specific period, but both suggest that the post-2024 CRT should remain in place for a considerable period. The B.C. Recommendation states that the CRT after 2024 "should be fixed for a sufficient duration to provide planning and operational certainty" while including "adaptive mechanisms" to account for changes over time. The U.S. Recommendation similarly urges that the "minimum duration" of the post-2024 CRT "should be long enough to allow each country to rely on the Treaty's planned operations and benefits for purposes of managing their long-range budgets, resource plans, and investments," but should also incorporate "adaptive management" mechanisms to allow necessary course corrections over time.
Because investments in major water and power infrastructure generally involve assets with an extremely long life and long-term amortization, these statements imply that the duration of the post-2024 CRT should be in the range of 30-50 years to provide the assurances for such long-term investments. But neither country is likely to commit to a new multi-decade term unless negotiated-for benefits will remain in line with actual benefits over the long term. This underscores the importance of the benefits formulas and other adaptive management provisions, discussed above, that anticipate long-term changes in relevant parameters and account for those changes in a manner fair and reasonably predictable to both sides.
OPTIONS FOR TREATY MODIFICATION
The CRT could be terminated and a completely new Treaty negotiated, signed by the President, with two-thirds majority approval by the U.S. Senate under the Treaty Clause of the U.S. Constitution, with parallel political processes in Canada. Following this course would present substantial and obvious political perils. Fortunately, there are a number of options available to negotiators other than allow the CRT to continue in its current form indefinitely or terminating it and negotiating an entirely new Treaty.
The menu of options available to negotiators includes, for example, an exchange of notes, reflecting agreement between the two nations on specific issues. Such an exchange of notes occurred when the CRT was ratified in 1964, and was aimed at clarifying some portions of the 1961 text. The CRT also includes Annexes and Protocols that set forth details on flood control, downstream power benefits calculations, and other issues, which could be modified without terminating the CRT itself. Similarly, contracts along the lines of the CSPE or implementation legislation in one or both countries could be used as the vehicle for modernization, or to address specific problems, without requiring Treaty termination.
These options have important differences involving, for example, whether formal legislative approval is required, how the agreement is enforced, and how durable the agreement would be over time. Fortunately, the range of options available will allow negotiators to select one or more options that are appropriate for the particular issues being addressed, the need for permanence, and the desire for formal political approval.
NON-TREATY STORAGE AGREEMENT
When Canada actually constructed the Mica Dam, it included an additional 5 MAF of storage that was not required under the CRT. This is referred to as "Non-Treaty Storage." Use of the Non-Treaty Storage has been governed for several decades under a series of agreements between the U.S. Entity and BC Hydro. The most recent Non-Treaty Storage Agreement ("NTSA"), signed in 2012, governs operation of the Non-Treaty Storage through September 15, 2024, so will end simultaneously with the expiration of the CRT's 60-year minimum term. The 2012 NTSA is remarkable in that it generated almost no controversy, a nearly unheard-of feat for any BPA matter involving significant water and power resources. It also addresses many of the same issues that the Recommendations identify as concerns, and therefore may serve as a model for resolution of those issues in the post-2024 CRT.
The NTSA provides the BPA and BC Hydro each have continuing access to 1.5 MAF of Mica's active storage, and BC Hydro may make available to BPA an additional 1 MAF from the Mica reservoir at its discretion. Except for provisions addressing dry years, all transactions are by mutual agreement and are coordinated on a weekly basis. Canada receives an equitable share of the downstream energy created by coordinated use of Non-Treaty Storage, with value determined by referenced to published energy price indices for the Mid-Columbia energy trading hub. BPA has used the added flexibility provided by the NTSA to benefit, for example, fisheries in the U.S., and to enhance power production at U.S. hydroelectric facilities.
September 16 marks a key juncture in the history of the Columbia River and surrounding regions. That date marks the opening of a process that is likely to result in substantial changes to the bi-national framework that has successfully governed the Columbia River for the last half-century. September 16 therefore represents a literally once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to shape the future of the River and the region through modernization of the CRT. The Recommendations developed by the two sides document major differences on a range of important issues. Over the long course of CRT negotiation and implementation, however, both sides have shown a remarkable capacity for identifying creative approaches to resolving differences and creating mutual benefits. There is good reason to believe this spirit of creative problem solving can help bridge the gaps between the two sides. Whether and how these solutions are developed will have profound and long-lasting impacts on the River, its resources, and the millions of people who depend on those resources.
At its monthly meeting yesterday, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission ("FERC") approved tariffs that will allow the western Energy Imbalance Market ("EIM") to open as planned on October 1, 2014. The EIM is designed to allow economic dispatch at five-minute intervals of energy balancing resources in the footprint of participating utilities. The EIM is one of a number of initiatives undertaken by utilities in the West to address the problems created by the rapid expansion of non-dispatchable wind and solar resources. Because these resources produce output that can be both highly variable and unpredictable, they have created increasing demand for balancing resources that can respond rapidly to changes in generation output to maintain the balance between generation supply and electric demand necessary for reliable operation of the electric system.
Yesterday's FERC orders approve the EIM proposed jointly by PacifiCorp and the California Independent System Operator ("Cal-ISO"). The PacifiCorp-ISO EIM will employ the Cal-ISO's existing five-minute market mechanism to dispatch balancing resources in the EIM's footprint. Initially, the EIM will dispatch resources within California, as well as within the two balancing authorities operated by PacifiCorp, which are centered on its service territories in the Pacific Northwest and Utah. Participation in the EIM is voluntary and the system is designed to allow expansion through addition of new utility participants.
Last summer, the Northwest power industry was stunned by the Department of Energy's sudden and unanticipated suspensions of two highly-respected top-tier executives at the Bonneville Power Administration, Administrator Bill Drummond and Chief Operating Officer Anita Decker. This week, Seattle attorney Dan Seligman has released a lengthy and carefully researched chronology of the problems in BPA's compliance with federally-mandated veterans preferences that ultimately caused the suspensions. Seligman's work, based on an extensive review of publicly-available documents, helps makes sense of what appeared at the time to be a bolt from the blue.
If you have any questions about BPA, the energy industry in the Pacific Northwest, or other matters involving the energy or environmental law, please contact a member of GTH's Energy, Telecommunications, and Utilities or Environment & Natural Resources practice groups. We're proud that our partner Jim Waldo was recently named 2013 Lawyer of the Year for Energy and Natural Resources Law, and practice group members Don Cohen, Bill Lynn, and Brad Jones were all named among Seattle's Best Lawyers. Disclaimer: Links to Mr. Seligman's work are provided as a convenience to our readers. GTH takes no responsibility for the content of Mr. Seligman's work or the contents of BPA Watch.
I-937 Updates: New Legislation and New Administrative Rules May Alter Washington's Renewable Portfolio Standard
As a result of both legislative and administrative action, several notable changes to Washington's Initiative 937 ("I-937", also known as the Washington Energy Independence Act) are on the horizon. While rejecting large-scale reform, the legislature made significant course corrections related to treatment of conservation and conduit hydro projects under the initiative. Those changes, and possibly several others, will be addressed in ongoing rulemaking proceedings at the Washington Department of Commerce and Washington Utilities & Transportation Commission ("UTC").
Two changes to I-937 were enacted in the 2014 session of the Washington Legislature. First, HB 1643, popularly known as the "conservation smoothing" legislation, allows utilities that achieve conservation in excess of specified targets to credit the excess toward future compliance periods, within limits. As originally enacted by the voters in 2006, I-937 required all covered utilities to obtain all "achievable cost-effective conservation." This mandate was carried out in a two-year process, which requires utilities first to identify conservation targets, then to adopt a plan to achieve those targets. In carrying out this mandate, many utilities, especially smaller utilities, found that conservation is not achieved in neat blocks, but instead is often achieved in major increments that may exceed specific biennial conservation targets. In these circumstances, I-937 both denied utilities the benefit of conservation achieved above biennial targets and created a perverse incentive to delay these conservation achievements.
In its latest effort to put to rest the years-long controversy that has swirled around its efforts to address excessive electricity production during periods when high winds coincide with high water in the Columbia River system, the Bonneville Power Administration ("BPA") recently issued a draft Record of Decision ("ROD") allocating the costs of such events. While wind generators argued for allocating all such costs to BPA's power customers and BPA's power customers urged BPA to assign all such costs to its transmission customers, BPA chose a third path. In the recent draft ROD, issued by newly-minted BPA Administrator Elliot Mainzer, BPA concluded that it should allocate oversupply costs to those generators operating within its balancing authority area that have scheduled power during an oversupply event. BPA's chosen alternative was supported by only one out-of-region entity, so it is unlikely to end either the controversy or the protracted litigation that has resulted.
As we have previously reported, the oversupply problem is an unintended consequence of the rapid expansion of wind generation in the Pacific Northwest. The wind fleet's capacity in the region now exceeds 7,000 MW, with 4,500 operating in BPA's balancing authority area. The oversupply problem arises when strong spring winds coincide with high spring runoff in the Columbia River Basin. In this situation, the combined electric power produced by federal dams on the Columbia River and wind generators in the region can exceed electrical loads. Further, the obligation to maintain dissolved gases within limits set by environmental authorities in order to avoided gas bubble trauma in fish (especially endangered salmon and steelhead runs), limits the amount of water dam operators can release over spillways, which adds to dissolved gas loads, requiring them instead to run the water through generators.
"The California ISO-PacifiCorp Energy Imbalance Market Experiment: Can Public Power Avoid Assimilation?" Eric Christensen Publishes Article in January NWPPA Bulletin
We're proud to announce that GTH partner Eric Christensen has published an article in the January 2014 Northwest Public Power Association Bulletin. The article is available electronically here. We've inserted the text below:
PacifiCorp and the California ISO are now cooperating to create an Energy Imbalance Market ("EIM") encompassing their collective service territories, which stretch from Utah to Southern California. For public power managers who follow "Star Trek", this development bring visions of the Borg, perhaps the most frightening foe dreamed up by the imaginative writers of "Star Trek: The Next Generation." The Borg is a half-technological, half-biological alien race with a collective hive-mind. With machine-like implacability, the Borg assimilates all other intelligent species, turning them into cyborgs without independent thought. When the heroic Captain Picard is captured and assimilated, and programmed to instruct the human race "you will be assimilated, resistance is futile," all hope appears lost. Development of the EIM forces public power to consider whether assimilation into the ISO and its mind-numbingly complex system of regulations and "structured" markets, is inevitable, whether resistance is futile, and what can be done to protect core public power values.
THE PACIFICORP-ISO PROPOSAL
As envisioned in the PacifiCorp-ISO scheme, the EIM would create a short-term market for balancing and regulating reserves, scheduled every 15 minutes and dispatched at 5-minute intervals. The core functions of the EIM would be provided by the ISO's automated 15-minute market. Dispatch would be optimized across the footprint of the Balancing Area Authorities ("BAAs") participating in the EIM, principally as a means of optimizing the use of balancing reserves to integrate wind generation and other intermittent resources. The PacifiCorp-ISO EIM is designed to allow other BAAs to easily join, with reduced balancing costs held out as an incentive. It is almost certain that NV Energy, the IOU serving Nevada, will join the EIM once regulators approve its sale to Warren Buffet's business empire, making it part of the same corporate family as PacifiCorp. It is easy to anticipate that other BAAs in the West might follow suit. The assimilation of BAAs across the West makes the assimilation of public power seem all the more inevitable.
It now appears nearly certain we will see some form of EIM in the West. Public power should take proactive steps to prevent assimilation, to achieve a peaceful co-existence with the EIM, and, ideally, to move the EIM in a direction that benefits public power. To achieve these goals, public power will need to engage actively in the ongoing PacifiCorp-ISO process and the parallel Northwest Power Pool process. Public power should also consider creative structural solutions that can both insulate us from the problems of an EIM and allow us greater control of our own destiny.
POTENTIAL PROBLEMS FOR PUBLIC POWER
Assimilation by the ISO creates a number of problems for public power. These include, for example, "mission creep," the concern that an EIM would establish a beachhead for a much intrusive entity, such as a west-wide RTO long opposed by public power. Similarly, there is concern that the EIM will lead toward substantially increased regulation by the Federal Energy Commission ("FERC"), particularly over the Bonneville Power Administration.
Two examples demonstrate the potential problems. First, Southern California public power entities operating within the California ISO have been subject to FERC regulation of their transmission rates where it was adjudged that their rates were an element of the ISO's FERC-jurisdictional rates. Second, attempts by both Maryland and New Jersey to deal with the inadequacies of the PJM market, which lacks a coherent mechanism for load-serving entities to secure long-term power supplies, have recently been struck down by federal courts as inconsistent with FERC's exclusive jurisdiction over the wholesale power market. Thus, experience with other RTO/ISO markets suggests that expansion of the EIM to a west-side RTO could create both greater FERC jurisdiction over western public power entities and undermine the ability of public power to secure long-term power supplies. These outcomes are, of course, antithetical to public power's core value of local control and its primary mission of assuring reliable and economical power to public power customer-owners.
The problem of expanded FERC jurisdiction is, in light of recent events, a particular concern with respect to Bonneville Power Administration ("BPA"). If BPA joins the EIM as an active participant, FERC may well assert that the rates it charges for power dispatched into the EIM are a component of FERC-jurisdictional wholesale rates charged by the EIM. This would subject BPA to greater FERC jurisdiction, shifting the focus of control over the agency toward Washington, DC, and away from the Pacific Northwest. And it may provide a lever for FERC to exert greater pressure on BPA to move toward a west-wide RTO.
As discussed in my May 2013 Bulletin article, the risks of mission creep and expanded FERC jurisdiction can be limited by including specific safeguards in the documents governing the EIM. In this article, I propose additional safeguards, including a publics-only EIM and additional measures that should be included in the EIM's governing documents.
STRUCTURAL SOLUTION: A PUBLICS-ONLY EIM
By moving aggressively to create its own EIM with membership limited to public power entities, public power can create a structural mechanism to limit both damaging proposals from the EIM and FERC jurisdiction over BPA and other publicly-owned utilities. Fundamentally, the proposed structure would bring together public power utilities, including but not necessarily limited to publics operating BAAs, to pool regulation and balancing reserves and to interact with the PacifiCorp-ISO EIM.
A publics-only EIM would have several advantages over an EIM with mixed public and IOU participation. Perhaps most importantly, the publics-only structure would create an attractive option for BPA, capturing most or all of the advantages that an EIM might create for BPA, but creating a bulwark against expanded FERC jurisdiction over the agency.
In addition, the publics-only EIM would keep public power's fate squarely in its own hands. Because FERC generally has no authority over public power, a publics-only EIM will be able to resist top-down mandates from FERC. If FERC attempts to force a publics-only structure into an expanded mandatory market along the lines of a West-wide RTO, the publics can resist without the same fear of regulatory consequences that would be inherent in an EIM where FERC-jurisdictional IOUs are participants.
Similarly, when faced with the question of adding new functions that would move the EIM toward a full-scale RTO, a publics-only RTO can consider adding new functions on the basis of their own merits, without concern that mandates from FERC would force their hand. Thus, this structure allows public power greater control of its own fate, limiting the extent to which FERC can use its expansive jurisdiction over IOUs as a lever to force its will on the West.
ADDITIONAL GOVERNANCE MEASURES
As currently planned, the EIM will operate using the ISO's 15-minute market system. This creates the danger that the ISO will become the default operator of the EIM across the West. With this underlying market structure, ensuring that public power, especially public power entities operating outside California, have an adequate voice in the EIM's operation becomes a challenge.
PacifiCorp and the ISO propose a "Transition Committee" to move toward an independent governing structure for the EIM, but it is not clear the proposed structure would result in fully representative governance. The Transition Committee would be composed of seven members, but, apart from EIM participants, there is no requirement that any particular segment of the industry be represented. This is particularly a problem for public power utilities without BAAs, which are likely to ultimately foot the bill for EIM costs but will not directly participate. And the long-term governance structure of the EIM is still to be developed. This process merits public power's careful attention.
In addition, public power should insist on a "Circuit Breaker" that would require the EIM to suspend operations if there are indications that the market is being manipulated or is otherwise functioning improperly. Circuit breakers of this type are a common feature of most commodity markets. When there are indications that a market participant is attempting to "corner" the market in particular commodity or is otherwise manipulating market prices or outcomes, the circuit breaker kicks in and trading is suspended in that market until appropriate measures are put in place to end the market abuse and make whole those market participants who have suffered from the manipulation.
A circuit breaker is particularly important for the EIM because credible concerns have been raised about market power in the transmission markets covered by the EIM and because the cost-benefit analyses performed so far suggest, at best, modest benefits for the EIM. It is simply not worth the risk of repeating the disaster of the 2000-01 Enron crisis in order to obtain these relatively modest benefits. A circuit breaker would provide market participants with the kind of immediate protection that was lacking in 2000-01, when Western public power waited for more than a year for FERC to take meaningful action to end widespread manipulation and dysfunction of the power markets, which cost hundreds of thousands their jobs and reduced regional economic output by tens of billions of dollars.
When all hope of avoiding assimilation by the Borg appears lost, Star Fleet throws all its remaining ships into a blockade around the inner Solar System. With some clever last-minute thinking by the crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise, the Borg's invasion is stopped and the human race is saved from assimilation. In the same way, the measures suggested here can create a blockade that protects core public power values, and prevents assimilation into FERC and the ISO.
Perhaps signaling the beginning of the end of the turmoil that has gripped the Bonneville Power Administration ("BPA") since then-Administrator Bill Drummond was abruptly suspended last July, the U.S. Department of Energy today named Elliot Mainzer as the new BPA Administrator. By making Mr. Mainzer's appointment permanent -- he was named Acting Administrator amidst the chaos of Mr. Drummond's sudden suspension -- DOE put in place a critical piece of the puzzle that is BPA's future. The DOE appointment implicitly endorses the course Mr. Mainzer has set for BPA to navigate the problems that led to Mr. Drummond's removal, and may therefore signal a return to normalcy for the agency. With the explicit endorsement of key political figures and interest groups, Mr. Mainzer is now appears well-positioned to refocus the agency's attention on its core missions and responsibilities.
This is welcome news for the region. As marketer for the enormous federal hydropower system in the Columbia River Basin and operator of the majority of high-voltage electric transmission in the Pacific Northwest, BPA plays an outsized role in the region's economic and environmental health. And the BPA Administrator plays an outsized role in the agency's operations because the Administrator is clothed with broad powers nearly unparalleled in other federal agencies.
Please join us on January 13 and 14, 2014, for the 19th Annual Conference on Buying and Selling Electric Power in the West. The conference brings together leading energy attorneys, expert consultants, industry executives, government officials, and many others to discuss cutting-edge issues affecting the electric industry in the West.
On January 14, Eric Christensen, Chairman of GTH's Energy, Telecommunications and Utilities practice group will present a lecture on Columbia River Treaty, the current status of the treaty, and how future changes are likely to affect electric power production and transmission in the Pacific Northwest.
We look forward to seeing you there.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit on Monday approved a Bonneville Power Administration settlement of the "Residential Exchange" litigation, which may finally bring a few years of peace to a decades-long legal war over the distribution of benefits from the low-cost resources of the federally-owned hydroelectric dams on the Columbia River system. The Ninth Circuit's opinion rejects a number of challenges to the settlement under the Northwest Power Act, putting to rest most questions about the Residential Exchange for the settlement's duration, through 2028. (Association of Public Agency Customers v. Bonneville Power Administration, No. 11-73178 (issued Oct. 28, 2013)).
The Residential Exchange is the result of a "grand bargain" between Bonneville's public agency customers and the region's investor-owned utilities ("IOUs"), which was encapsulated in Sections 5(c) and 7(b) of the Northwest Power Act of 1980. The Residential Exchange was intended to allow the IOUs a share of the benefits of low-cost power from the federal hydroelectric system. The language of the Act is quite turgid, but at base, the Exchange provides the residential and small farm customers of the IOUs with a cash subsidies from Bonneville. But those benefits are subject to a "ceiling," set forth in Section 7(b)(2). The 7(b)(2) rate ceiling is the keystone of the "grand bargain," and is intended to protect Bonneville's public customers, who pay for most costs of the Residential Exchange as an element of their wholesale power rates, by ensuring that their rates are no higher than they would have been had the Residential Exchange not been enacted. Rather than a direct sale of power, the Exchange is a paper transaction in which the IOUs "exchange" power with Bonneville, and receive a cash payment from Bonneville which is calculated as the difference between the IOU's average power cost ("Average System Cost" in Bonneville-speak) and Bonneville's wholesale rate, as adjusted in accordance with the rate cap and other requirements of Section 7 (the "PF Exchange Rate"). The IOUs are then obligated to pass this cash payment through to their residential and small farm customers through rate reductions for these customer classes.
With the opposing sides entrenched in inflexible positions, it appears that the shutdown of the federal government won't end anytime soon. Because of differences in how the agencies are funded, a couple of energy-related agencies are operating normally for the time being. Here is a quick summary of how the federal shutdown will affect federal agencies of concern to the energy industry:
1. Power Marketing Agencies: By virtue of the fact that it is self-funded, the Bonneville Power Administration will continue to operate as normal. The Bonneville Fund, a permanent revolving fund created by the Federal Columbia River Transmission Act of 1974, allows BPA to operate without the necessity of annual Congressional appropriations. Even other federal power marketing agencies are not so lucky. For example, the Western Area Power Agency will operate with only 77 employees, retained to perform functions related to the protection of human life and property.
2. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission: For the time being, FERC will operate normally, relying on funds collected from filing fees and other types of user fees that do not require Congressional appropriations. Once those funds are exhausted, FERC will drastically curtail its operations. According to press reports, Chairman Jon Wellinghoff has estimated that FERC may continue to operate for somewhere between two weeks and one month before available funds run dry.
3. Environmental Protection Agency: Like most federal agencies, EPA has furloughed a large majority of its employees. Hence, permitting and rulemaking activity is on hold for the duration of the shutdown.
4. Department of Energy: With the exception of employees involved in nuclear safety, nearly all Department of Energy employees have been furloughed, including, for example, all but two employees at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. In fact, the DOE's website has been taken offline except for a detailed statement about the Department's furlough policy.
In short, with the exception of the BPA and FERC, nearly all federal activity related to energy and environmental protection has come to a halt. FERC will enjoy a short reprieve from the shutdown, but the reprieve will last only a few weeks, perhaps less.
If you have questions about the federal shutdown, the affected agencies, or other questions related to energy or environmental law, please contact a member of GTH's Energy, Telecommunications, and Utilities practice group or Environment & Natural Resources practice group. We are proud that our partner Jim Waldo was recently named 2013 Lawyer of the Year for Energy and Natural Resources Law, and practice group members Don Cohen, Bill Lynn, and Brad Jones were all named among Seattle's Best Lawyers.
While rejecting the potentially most far-reaching claim of the environmental petitioners, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit yesterday remanded the Northwest Power and Conservation Council's ("Council") Sixth Power Plan to correct two perceived errors. The opinion is the latest chapter in the Pacific Northwest's "salmon wars," a decades-long political and legal struggle to balance the health of the region's iconic salmon runs with its economically vital hydroelectric power system. Northwest Resource Information Center, Inc. v. Northwest Power & Conservation Council, No. 10-72104 (issued September 18, 2013).
The Council is the body designated under the Northwest Power Act to develop a plan that provides a robust regional fish and wildlife conservation program, while preserving the value of the regional hydroelectric system. The power planning process is the core mechanism employed by the Council to achieve this balance. Hence, changes to power planning process can have far-reaching consequences.
Political and legal battle lines have now been drawn around implementation of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission's ("FERC") Order No. 1000 in the Pacific Northwest. The outcome of these battles will go far toward defining the extent to which FERC can exert its authority in this region and others where public power predominates. Indeed, absent deft handling of the issues by FERC, collapse of the Order No. 1000 process in the region appears to be a real possibility.
As we have described in earlier posts, Order No. 1000 is a major FERC initiative aimed at opening the market for transmission development to new players and new sources of investment. To accomplish this goal, Order No. 1000 requires several changes to regional transmission planning and cost allocation. For example, FERC-jurisdictional transmission utilities are required to open regional transmission planning processes to non-incumbents, to improve transmission planning between regions, to eliminate the right of first refusal for incumbent utilities to construct transmission within their service areas, and to create a mechanism for allocation of the costs of transmission projects chosen in the regional transmission planning process. While other elements in Order No. 1000 have provoked little controversy in the Pacific Northwest, the mandatory cost allocation requirement has become a serious point of contention.
According to several press accounts, Bill Drummond, Administrator of the Bonneville Power Administration ("BPA"), was suspended and escorted from his office on Monday, along with the agency's Chief Operating Officer, Anita Decker. On Monday afternoon, BPA issued a terse announcement stating that Mr. Drummond had been placed on administrative leave and that Elliot Mainzer had been named interim Bonneville Administrator. Suspensions at the highest level of BPA are unprecedented in the agency's history, which dates back to the New Deal.
Today, a few parts have begun to appear in the clouds of mystery surrounding the suspension. According to a "Management Alert" issued earlier today by Department of Energy ("DOE") Inspector General Gregory H. Friedman, the suspensions arise from a whistleblower complaint filed in June 2012 alleging that BPA engaged in improper hiring practices that failed to give required preferences to veterans. The preliminary results of the investigation arising from that complaint, as reported in the Management Alert, determined that Bonneville committed one or more errors in 95 of 146 hirings between November 2010 and June 2012, a rate of 65%. Based on the "major errors" found in "the vast majority of files reviewed," DOE suspended BPA's independent authority to make its own hirings.
As Decision Day for the Columbia River Treaty Looms, BPA and Corps Seek Comments On Draft Recommendations
As previously discussed here, the impending decision about whether to seek termination or renegotiation of the Columbia River Treaty next year carries with it enormous long-term implications for the Pacific Northwest and the region's power industry. In preparation for this decision, the "U.S. Entity" -- Treaty-speak for the Bonneville Power Administration and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which jointly administer the Treaty on behalf of the U.S. -- is seeking comments by August 16 on the its "Working Draft of a Regional Recommendation: Improving the Columbia River Treaty Post-2024", which was released late last month.
The Working Draft Recommendation is primarily the product of input from the "Sovereign Review Team," composed of representatives from the four Columbia Basin states, eleven federal agencies, and fifteen Native American tribes. Those entities have not yet reached full agreement, so the Draft remains a work in progress. The comments the U.S. Entity solicited will be part of an ongoing process of refining the recommendations that will be made by the U.S. Entity to the Department of State in December 2013. Ultimately, the Department of State will be responsible for terminating or renegotiating the Treaty.