PUD staff visited our Rhode Island Federal congressmen on March 1, 2011, as part of the annual American Public Power Association (APPA) and New England Public Power Association (NEPPA) legislative visit to Washington DC.
This is a well-coordinated annual event among the various public power entities together with their APPA and NEPPA trade associations. The main focus of this gathering is to highlight important issues and positions on pending legislation that are crucial to the public power industry. Planning and messaging for the trip has been underway for several months, and our two trade associations did an outstanding job coordinating the meetings in DC, both internally among the public power members, and then between the members and their congressional delegations from the states where they do their business.
I know many of our customers are dealing with their own very real issues of snow loading on their roofs, and the fear of ice dams that can back up melting water into their living spaces. For us here at PUD, our major concern is how these severe conditions can affect our power lines and water system in a way where outages have the potential to put our customers in harms’ way or discomfort. We have fared much better than I could have hoped for this season with only a few spot outages from these conditions. The week of January 30 through February 5th was our most challenging period, in that the potential for icing of our power system was extremely high. Icing can weight down our lines and structures to the point of breaking, and also cause overhead branches to fall on these lines and short them out. The fact that we only had minor outages during this period was a combination of good luck that the freeze/thaw temperatures prevented major icing, and that the dedication of our staff over the years to build a durable system and maintain that system has kept our facilities robust. Such good construction and care has really helped minimize storm damage, and my hat goes off to our caring staff.
PUD’s primary focus was to meet and share ideas with the Rhode Island congressional delegation, and so we visited with the following legislative leaders and their staff members to express our opinions on issues critical to public power:
U.S. Representative James Langevin represented by staff member Rachael Bornstein
U.S. Representative David Cicilline represented by staff member Chris Bizzacco
U.S. Senator Jack Reed and staff member Kelly Knutsen
U. S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse and staff member Jamie Long
I was very impressed that our congressional leaders took the time they did to sit with us under extremely busy conditions in Washington. The week of February 28 to March 4 was a crucial period for both the House and Senate, in that they were intensely debating the remainder of this year’s Federal budget through a process called a “continuing resolution” as well as beginning the debate on the budget for fiscal 2012. President Obama had released his version of the fiscal 2012 budget the prior week, and there has already been widespread discussion in the press as our congressional leaders weigh in on this important budget. For our congressmen and their staff to take time out of such a busy schedule to listen to our public power concerns was much appreciated, and shows the commitment our leaders in Congress have to the success of PUD as a public entity in Rhode Island.
Although there were many items of interest which public power entities could touch on in their individual congressional meetings, we decided at PUD to focus on the two or three most crucial issues which have an impact on our ability to bring reliable and cost effective electric and water service to our customers. To that end, we highlighted the following key areas with our congressional leadership team:
Preservation of Municipal Bonding Authority for Public Power Ð we are very concerned that due to budgetary constraints and tax revenue concerns, Congress will attempt to remove the tax exempt status from interest earned on municipal bonds. This was even proposed by the President’s Deficit Commission in 2010, so it is a real concern. Such a change, if it occurred, would increase the ultimate cost to our public utility customers by increasing our costs to borrow money. This is extremely detrimental to capital projects we undertake as we continually improve our utility infrastructure.
Federal Tax Incentives for Renewable Energy Ð we emphasized that Congress should extend and expand eligibility for the Clean Renewable Energy Bond program, to allow public entities such as PUD an incentive to engage in renewable energy programs. As an example, such bonds may possibly be used to construct a small hydro project being considered by the Town of Burrillville and interconnected with PUD, so we have a strong desire for this renewable energy bonding program to be extended.
Incentive Rates for New Transmission Ð we urged our leaders to implement a congressional oversight process on the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which we feel has been rubber stamping “incentive” rates for “for profit” entities who are building major transmission projects. We believe that in most cases, a normal “return on investment” should be adequate for most transmission projects, and that such projects do not need a premium component on top of the normal profit margin in order to proceed. Our concern is evidenced in the drastic rise in transmission costs that are being imposed on our customers through such incentives while we are striving to hold all our other costs to a minimum.
In addition to the above items and as time allowed at the meetings, we also weighed in on other matters such as cyber-security and greenhouse gas issues. The above three items, however, were the main points we wanted to emphasize with our congressional leaders, since they have the most impact on our cost of business, and therefore our customer rates.
So in summary, it was a very successful trip, and I am glad that we were able to have representation from PUD to discuss these issues with our congressional leaders as the 112th Congress gears up for what looks to be a very busy legislative session.