Elliot Mainzer, who has led the Bonneville Power Administration (BPA) through a seven-year period of energy market upheavals and big financial challenges, is leaving to take a new job at an agency that oversees California’s power grid.
Mainzer has worked to renovate the aging federal hydropower system that generates electricity marketed by BPA, and tried to forge a new consensus in the struggling efforts to rebuild the Columbia Basin salmon runs.
Last year, he helped to negotiate an innovative agreement to enable more spill over federal hydropower dams.
Mainzer also put a big emphasis on clamping down on rate increases charged to Northwest utilities that had totaled 30% over a nine-year period and prompted some utility executives to discuss looking elsewhere for power when rates expired.
This has been a difficult task. Costs have piled up for maintaining the hydro system and a Northwest nuclear plant, and bankrolling salmon restoration. Meanwhile, new sources of cheaper renewable power have come on line in the West.
Mainzer said he would keep contract rate increases — calculated every two years — at or below the rate of inflation. And this year, amid the pandemic and economic slowdown, BPA announced a $3 million price break for regional utilities by dropping a financial reserve charge.
Mainzer will stay at BPA until the end of the month, then will take a new position as chief executive officer of the California Independent System Operator.
Mainzer, in a statement released Thursday, said he was “profoundly grateful for the focus and dedication of the BPA workforce,” and would continue to stay in touch “as we work toward a prosperous clean energy future.”
The Energy Department will appoint an acting administrator at a later date.
Northwest RiverPartners, which represents community-owned utilities, said in a statement that the timing of Mainzer’s departure is noteworthy because it comes in the midst of a presidential election, and the priorities of the next Energy Department Secretary will influence who is selected as the new BPA administrator.
NorthwestRiverPartners called for the appointment of an administrator “who fully understands the value of the hydropower system. That includes understanding how vulnerable communities and the environment would be significantly harmed by measures that would reduce the capabilities of the Federal Columbia River Power System.”