US utility Bonneville Power Administration has paid US$852M to the US Treasury for fiscal year 1998-9.

The payment is the return on the federal government’s investment in the Columbia riverbasin hydroelectric projects and BPA’s high-voltage transmission system. Of this year’s payment, US$247M went to principal, US$500M went to interest and US$105M went to operation and maintenance on the federal dams operated by the US Army Corps of Engineers and the Bureau of Reclamation.

Since FY95, BPA has cut its planned operating expense level by US$600M a year — the agency’s total budget is around US$2B. The agency has also adopted recommendations from an outside financial panel to reduce its costs by another US$131M annually for the years 2002 to 2006. BPA has repaid the treasury over US$4B of the federal investment in the power system, leaving US$7B still to be paid. BPA is self-financed and receives no appropriation from the US Congress.

Meanwhile Al Gore, US Vice President, has announced that BPA will continue to provide low cost power in the Pacific northwest US while committing necessary funding for salmon restoration in the Columbia river basin.

Federal decisions on potential changes in the management of the Columbia and Snake river dams to aid threatened and endangered salmon are due in late 1999. BPA, however, must establish new rates and begin contracting for the sale of power before that date.

BPA’s plan takes into account the full range of salmon recovery measures being considered, as well as a commitment to hold wholesale power rates stable and below market levels between 2001 and 2006. The plan anticipates a commitment of US$438M and US$721M per year to fish and wildlife efforts in the period from 2001 to 2006.