Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

The looting of America: The Trump administration wants to sell off portions of a vast system that produces nearly half of the nation’s hydropower electricity.

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Private prisons are money-makers, but with some drawbacks: as crime rates fall, prison revenue falls as well, so prison companies lobby for ways to fill the prisons: mandatory minimum sentences (guaranteeing a revenue stream for a fixed number of years per prisoner), three-strikes laws (lifetime revenue for three convictions, sometimes minor), more offenses designated as requiring a prison sentence, and the like. Private hospitals grow profits by cutting back on staff and services. (Nonprofit hospitals are not driven to increase profits.)

And now Trump wants to turn over to private, for-profit corporations significant portions of the taxpayer-built hydropower system. Kirk Johnson reports in the NY Times:

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.

Google taps the river’s energy to power a data center 90 minutes east of Portland, Ore. — drawn there by some of the cheapest, most environmentally friendly electricity in the nation. Farmers farther upriver in Washington State pump irrigation water into alfalfa fields — with both the water and the electricity supplied by a dam. The Space Needle in Seattle uses Columbia River electricity to slowly spin tourists in its sky-view restaurant. High-voltage transmission lines shoot south to California.

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.

Debates about government and its role in land and environmental policy are always highly charged. But perhaps nowhere could the proposed changes have a more significant impact than along the great river of the West — fourth largest by volume in North America, more than 10 times that of the Hudson. Privatization would transform a government service that requires equal standards across a vast territory — from large cities to tiny hamlets — into a private operation seeking maximum returns to investors.

Wringing profits from a system that has provided electricity at cost would inevitably raise prices, critics of the idea said, while supporters envision a streamlined grid open to innovations that government managers cannot imagine.

A New York Times reporter and photographer went down the river in June, bunking with a five-man tug crew over 30 hours as workers cooked their meals, rested between shifts and transited through four dams and locks. We were looking for the interconnections of electricity and navigation, private industry and government management, engineering and biology, and what is at stake in this new energy debate.

Those stakes start with the scale. Grand Coulee alone, the biggest dam on the river, ships power to 10 states and creates enough electricity to power all the households in Missouri for a year. The 12 million cubic yards of concrete it contains is enough to build a highway from Seattle to Miami.

The possible fate of that system is raising alarms for some, and questions for almost everyone whose life connects to the river.

“The uncertainty is the biggest thing of all: How would it work?” Terry Oxley, the captain of the tugboat, the Crown Point, said as he gazed out over the water, hands flicking the controls with practiced aplomb. Mr. Oxley, 63, has worked the tugs for 39 years.

“I guess I want more input,” he added. “Who’s going to control it? Who’s going to have the say so? When are they going to release the water, the flood control, the spill patterns for the fish? It’s such a big deal, and it’s all intertwined.” . . .

Continue reading.

If private corporations take over, the fish are doomed: fish don’t help profits, and costs will be cut.

Written by LeisureGuy

28 July 2017 at 4:08 pm

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