Assistant Energy Secretary Bruce Walker touted the importance of federal dams and transmission lines to electric cooperative leaders Monday despite the Trump administration’s budget proposal to sell off those assets.
“People who put budgets together don’t always understand the components of what they’re putting the budget together for,” Walker said in response to a question about the budget plan from a co-op leader at NRECA’s 2019 Legislative Conference on Capitol Hill. He said the dams are key to providing reliable power to more than 30 states.
President Trump’s 2020 budget proposal calls for selling off federal transmission lines that NRECA believes are crucial for more than 600 electric cooperatives to provide low-cost power to their consumer-members.
Trump’s budget proposal would privatize transmission lines operated by the four Power Marketing Administrations. They would be sold to private, for-profit utility companies under Trump’s plan.
Walker, who leads the Department of Energy’s Office of Electricity, said “it’s hard for some people to understand” that the federal government actually owns transmission assets. He said the Energy Department recognizes the need for “articulating the value of PMAs.”
NRECA CEO Jim Matheson has said that selling off federal transmission lines would “jeopardize affordable and reliable power for more than 100 million people and raise electricity prices for rural Americans.”
The administration’s budget proposal also calls for authorizing the PMAs “to charge rates comparable to those charged by for-profit, investor-owned utilities, rather than being limited to cost-based rates, for electricity.”
One co-op leader asked Walker about that plan, noting that not-for-profit co-ops have purchased electricity from PMAs since the 1930s with the understanding that it would be supplied at cost.
Walker said he has been discussing the rate structure with the Office of Management and Budget and the issue remains under review.
Regardless of whether you sell power from the federal dams, the dams still need to be there to provide irrigation, Walker said.
“How do we start recognizing the value that hydro provides?” he said. “That’s an ongoing issue.”
Members of both parties in Congress have expressed opposition to the Trump administration’s proposal to sell federal transmission assets, and the plan is not expected to be approved by lawmakers. Thousands of co-op leaders are lobbying against the proposal in visits to Capitol Hill this week.
Erin Kelly is a staff writer at NRECA.