April 13, 2001 11:00 pm

The idea that we who live here in the Pacific Northwest must agree to shut down aluminum smelters and reduce our electricity use by 10 percent or face 200 to 300 percent increases in cost from the Bonneville Power Administration is ludicrous.

It isnt the people who live here or the aluminum smelters that have caused the power problems. The BPA is the one that is responsible and should be held accountable.

When the first dam was built on the Columbia River, the idea was to provide low-cost power to the people who lived in the rural areas and then provide cheap power to build an industrial base that could be used for national interests. Anyone who has studied the history of power in the Pacific Northwest knows this.

As the number of dams increased, power continued to be inexpensive. More people moved to the Northwest and more large industrial manufacturers arrived. Both created a false sense of security for power users.

Eventually some nuclear power and either natural gas or coal-fired generating plants surfaced and we all continued to enjoy inexpensive power.

It wasnt until the energy crisis of the 1970s that anyone started thinking about conservation. For the better part of a decade, Northwesterners did a great job of improving their homes and businesses to reduce the need for power. This conservation was strongly pushed by visionaries in the BPA. They provided millions of dollars in support of both public and private utilities to improve conservation. But in the latter part of the 80s and into the 90s, the conservation philosophy gave way and the funding to keep the focus on conserving energy died a slow death.

For the last part of the 90s everyone focused on saving the salmon and even discussed breaching several dams.

Now suddenly we have a crisis, not enough power, and we need to raise everyones consciousness about conserving electricity and the need to raise the price.

THE BPA HAS FAILED to stay focused on the reason the agency was formed in the first place: to provide low-cost power for those who live in the rural communities and to drive the industrial base of the Northwest.

Those in charge of the organization have failed to keep these charges. What we need now is some determined leadership at the BPA that wont raise our rates or drive away our industrial base.

BPA needs to return to its original mission and do what is necessary to keep the regions electricity flowing at modest costs. If anyone should have to pay higher power bills, it should be private utilities and the people outside of the Northwest.