U.S. Secretary of Energy Rick Perry was noncommittal Monday when asked about a proposal in the president’s budget to privatize the Bonneville Power Administration transmission grid following a tour of McNary Dam along the Columbia River.
Perry, who was joined by congressmen Greg Walden (R-Oregon) and Dan Newhouse (R-Washington), met briefly with reporters outside the dam where he said hydroelectricity will continue to play an important role in America’s energy strategy.
The Trump administration, however, has proposed selling off transmission assets owned by BPA, which markets electric power generated by the Columbia River system — including McNary Dam. Northwest lawmakers have roundly criticized the plan, saying it will raise rates for consumers and affect reliability in rural areas.
In fact, both Walden and Newhouse signed on to a letter sent June 5 to Perry and Mick Mulvaney, director of the White House Office of Management and Budget, urging them to support the BPA.
“We believe divesting BPA’s transmission assets will harm individuals and businesses, divert capital needed for further infrastructure investment in the Northwest, and undermine regional utility coordination,” the letter reads in part. “BPA has helped to develop and administer the complex electrical system that powers the Northwest, now providing affordable and reliable power to over 12 million people and the businesses that help the region thrive.”
Still, Perry was mum when asked where he stood on the issue, saying only that they should not be afraid to have that conversation before moving on to another topic.
Walden, on the other hand, was more direct in his defense of the agency. He expressed confidence that the BPA will remain public, adding that the notion of privatization has united just about every member of the Northwest delegation.
“(BPA) does its job. And it has a darn important job in our region,” Walden said.
On the subject of hydroelectricity and renewable energy as a whole, Perry said he is an “all-of-the-above guy,” pointing to the development of wind power and fracked natural gas during his time as governor of Texas. Hydroelectricity will play an important role moving forward Perry said, and he commended the work done at McNary Dam.
“My hat’s off to every different part of this operation to make sure it runs smoothly,” he said.
McNary Dam is just the first stop for Perry as he arrived in northeast Oregon and southeast Washington. On Tuesday, he planned to travel to the Tri-Cities for a visit to the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, HAMMER Federal Training Center and Hanford Nuclear Reservation.
Perry said security at Hanford is “as good as there is in the world,” despite a partial tunnel collapse in May that contained highly radioactive waste.
“We never like to have surprises, but we have them from time to time to time,” he said. “The long-term cleanup of that site is what’s important. That’s what I wanted to see.”
While at Hanford, Perry planned to visit the site’s Plutonium Finishing Plant, the 2268 Building, the WTP facility and the PUREX tunnels. He described both Hanford and McNary Dam as examples of American strength and ingenuity.
“This is a fascinating part of America’s story,” Perry said. “There’s extraordinary history.”