New BPA head has public power background


PORTLAND, Ore. — A new administrator with deep roots in public power was sworn into office on Thursday, taking charge of the Bonneville Power Administration, the Northwest’s largest supplier of electric power and high voltage transmission services.

The appointment of William K. Drummond to the influential post is seen as a good sign by public power advocates, including those at the Grays Harbor PUD. Over the past few years, the BPA has had rocky relationships with public utilities in Washington state, especially the Grays Harbor PUD, resulting in lengthy court battles and lawsuits and issues concerning the costs of power when it comes to investor-owned utilities.

“Bill Drummond brings to the position valuable experience and knowledge and we are confident in his abilities to lead the agency,” Grays Harbor PUD spokeswoman Liz Anderson said. “We have had the opportunity to work with Mr. Drummond in his previous leadership roles in public power and wish him the best in his new endeavor.”

BPA rate hikes have often meant increases to residential utility bills in recent years, including a recent 8 percent increase the Grays Harbor PUD commissioners passed on to ratepayers this year.

Experience

Drummond came to BPA in October 2011 as deputy administrator providing strategic leadership and executive management to the agency. Before joining BPA, Drummond had managed Western Montana Electric Generating and Transmission Cooperative in Missoula, Mont., for 17 years. From 1988 to 1994, Drummond led the Public Power Council, an association of all Northwest publicly-owned utilities.

“Bonneville represents the best expression of public vision and achievement, collaborative relationships, environmental stewardship and a commitment to operational excellence,” Drummond said in a press release. “I am grateful for this opportunity and look forward to my new role at BPA.”

Former BPA Administrator Steve Wright retired from office last week. Locally, Wright may best be remembered as coming to the Harbor back in 2008 at the behest of Gov. Chris Gregoire to help court new owners at the mothballed Weyerhaeuser-owned pulp mill in Cosmopolis when the PUD wanted to buy the power house at the mill. BPA had veto authority over the deal and, although the deal fell apart and an entirely different set of owners bought the mill and turned it into Cosmo Fibers without the PUD’s intervention, Wright ended up giving it his blessing, while chastising the PUD for not taking a “cooperative approach” in the utility world.

Wright had been the BPA administrator for 12 years, the second longest for an administrator in BPA’s 75-year history. He took over on the cusp of the West Coast energy crisis. He held on through three presidents, a rotating cast of bosses at the U.S. Department of Energy, and a host of decisions on big picture, controversial issues — some that had festered for years.

Bonneville’s chief may be the most important non-elected official in the region, presiding over a pillar of the Northwest’s economy, perhaps its biggest competitive advantage: cheap, carbon-free electricity that flows from 31 hydroelectric dams, and the high-voltage transmission network that ferries it to customers around the West. His decisions touch every power bill in the region. But outside energy and political circles, the job is largely anonymous. And unlike a corporate CEO’s gravy train of pay and perks, what you get for running this 3,100 employee behemoth with $3 billion in annual revenues is a salary of $180,000 a year.

“We don’t have many advantages in the Northwest, Wright said last week. “But we have this tremendous river on the side of a very big hill, and that provides a lot of advantages.”