Today's electric power system has six principal characteristics. First, unlike systems in most other regions of the country, the Pacific Northwest's system is primarily grounded on water power, although during the past decade most new generating facilities have been coal or nuclear power plants. Second, the costs of electricity have escalated rapidly in recent years, a direct result of the new higher cost thermal plants, some of which have been stillborn. Third, although the Pacific Northwest utility industry is remarkably diverse, the more than one hundred public and private utilities that serve the region are interconnected physically by a transmission grid and institutionally by the region's large-scale wholesaler of electricity, the federal Bonneville Power Administration. Fourth, while the federal role in the generation and distribution of electric energy has been and continues to be significant, the key policy choices of the future will be made by the states, most notably through the interstate Pacific Northwest Electric Power Planning and Conservation Council. Fifth, the growth of the interconnected system has been influenced to a considerable extent by a desire to attract and maintain an aluminum reduction industry that is extremely electricity consumptive. Sixth, the principal source of electricity is federal reservoirs designed for multiple purposes. Electric power policies thus have inevitable, though not always widely perceived, spillover effects on other water uses and resources, particularly the region's economically valuable anadromous fish runs.
Michael C. Blumm,
The Northwest's Hydroelectric Heritage: Prologue to the Pacific Northwest Electric Power Planning and Conservation Act,
58 Wash. L. Rev.
Available at: https://digitalcommons.law.uw.edu/wlr/vol58/iss2/1