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using transmission lines to unite isolated, inefficient utilities into more efficient systems. The Hydro-Electric Power Commission of Ontario, formed in 1906, had long demonstrated the merits of a large, high-voltage transmission network.
In his somewhat romantic 1962 book Insull, Forrest McDonald tells how Samuel Insull formed the Public Service Company of Northern Illinois by using transmission lines to merge 39 isolated companies in August 1911. He called it "systematization." Within 4 years, he cut electric service rates in half. Insull's 1913 speeches dramatized what McDonald called the discovery of "a missing element in the economics of electric supply and in doing so contributed the most conspicuous part of the electrical revolution...” He concludes that systematization and rural electrification "were advanced almost a generation through the efforts of Insull."
As early as 1919, Professor Carl Edward Magnusson, Director of the Engineering Station, University of Washington suggested the merits of interconnecting transmission from British Columbia to Southern California.
The Seattle and Tacoma municipal electric systems built a transmission intertie in 1923. The Washington Water Power Company and Montana Power Company were interconnected the same year.
In related action that year, remembering World War I power shortages, Pennsylvania Governor Gifford Pinchot persuaded his State's Legislative Assembly to establish the Giant Power Survey Board. In its 1925 report, the board outlined a statewide 220,000-volt superpower system and strongly recommended rural electrification. Again because of World War I power shortages, Great Britain's conservative government in 1926 established the Central Electricity Board. It was authorized to build a transmission grid to integrate and standardize England's electric power supply.
At a hearing on the Umatilla Rapids bill January 16, 1931, Kenneth G. Harlan, a consulting engineer of Tacoma and Portland, was probably the first person to urge construction of Federal transmission lines to assure the public of receiving the benefits of low cost Federally generated power. In its 308 report of 1932 on the Columbia River and Minor Tributaries, the Corps of Engineers stressed the need for new 220,000 volt transmission lines.
On December 10, 1932 the Super Power Committee of Oregon reported to the legislature:
"Public power development has passed through the
municipal ownership stage, and into the superpower or interconnection stage.
"The economics had through interconnection are so great that municipal ownership cannot survive unless all isolated public power plants are soon interconnected.”
The transmission issue for Bonneville Dam came to focus in the 1934 Report of the Bonneville Commission to the Oregon State legislature. Would transmission facilities serve just the local area or the entire region? The seven Commission members split. The four-member majority report viewed Bonneville Dam as a local project with a trunk line to the Portland-Vancouver area to connect with existing lines of local companies and new lines of prospective large industries. The pro-Portland majority feared an extensive transmission system would result in higher cost power and deter industries from locating in the proposed service area.
Conversely, the three-member minority report stated "The market area for Bonneville power is taken as the entire Northwest.” It urged, "Petition the United States to construct the interstate power transmission system, connecting all public and private plants in the Northwest.” The minority report predicted Columbia River dams would develop faster due to expansion of electric power sales over the entire region. On the question of control the minority said:
"It is daily becoming apparent that the public must not only control the switch at the powerhouse, but also the power transmission network. The distribution lines may be in public or private ownership, as the people elect.” They also suggested:
"The economies available through ownership and operation of the transmissions network, because of diversity of streamflow conditions at connected powerplants and diversity of peak load conditions in various cities, is far greater than the economies which can be had through public ownership to the powerplant.”
Another 1936 event warrants mention because of constitutional questions raised in considering whether the Federal Government could build and operate transmission lines. With fortuitous timing - barely a year before Congress considered the Bonneville Project Act - the United States Supreme Court on February 17 handed down its decision on the Ashwander case affirming the constitutionality of the Tennessee Valley Authority.
The timing of the decision served the Pacific Northwest
Carl Edward Magnusson
well. The transmission issue, which is discussed in more detail in the next few chapters, had many ramifications, including creation of greater public awareness concerning the power transmission problem.
Professor Carl Edward Magnusson spoke out many times in testimony, speeches, and articles for a statewide and subsequently a regional transmission network. He emphasized the critical role of transmission in discussing the three functional divisions - generation, transmission, and distribution. At a Conference on Distribution of Bonneville Power at the University of Oregon March 18-19, 1937 he maintained:
"In the large majority of hydroelectric power developments long-distance transportation of the generated electric energy to market is in many respects of outstanding importance, primarily because ownership and control of the transmission lines form the basis for establishing and maintaining regional monopoly of the electric power business.”
Magnusson included the statement in his subsequent presentation to the U.S. House Committee on Public Works. Regarding a Federal organization to administer the transmission system, he emphasized in his May 14, 1937 cover letter to the Committee:
"It is very important that the Administrator of the Bonneville and Grand Coulee power developments should be under the direction of either an administrator or a board primarily interested in power. Neither the United States Army engineers nor the United States Reclamation engineers possess the desired qualifications or point of view to successfully administer power developments like the Bonneville and Grand Coulee."
In any Pacific Northwest electric power hall of fame Professor Carl Edward Magnusson deserves an honored niche. Notably he helped to identify, explain, create awareness, and drive home the importance of the electric transmission issue. He envisioned and advocated basic principles for the Bonneville legislation. His 1919 prophecy of a West Coast intertie came to fruition a half century later.
The simplistic, vintage-1937 concept of electric transmission represents little more than a starting point for the long years of evolution and expansion toward the broader capabilities and greater benefits of the sophisticated, modern electric power pool and system of interregional transmission interconnections. In this evolution the Bonneville Power Administration would soon play a major role.
8. A TURNING POINT IN HISTORY
The Bonneville Act was a turning point in Northwest history.
- Roy F. Bessey in a 1975 Interview The Pacific Northwest Regional Planning Commission played a crucial role in laying the foundation for a good bill. PNWRPC owed its origin to the National Industrial Recovery Act of June 16, 1933. The Act authorized the Public Works Administration to establish the National Planning Board. NPB in 1934 authorized and funded PNWRPC and contributed technical assistance and funds for state planning boards.
In the spring of 1935 Roy Bessey, PNWRPC executive director, Marshall Dana, first chairman of PNWRPC, and Senator James P. Pope of Idaho met with President Roosevelt to ascertain the President's wishes for instituting an organization to market the power soon to become available from Bonneville Dam, and later Grand Coulee Dam.
The President spoke glowingly of developing river basins, particularly the Columbia River Basin. He urged his visitors to study the problem of creating a power marketing agency with open minds. He called attention to such innovative organizations as the New York State Power Authority and Tennessee Valley Authority. He cautioned that a region's particular characteristics could render the valley authority approach unsuitable, and that such authorities could not fully substitute for regular departments. He agreed on the merits of a regional approach and the desirability of an early study.
The meeting prompted Secretary of the Interior Harold L. Ickes, as National Resources Committee chairman, to write an important letter on July 9, 1935 to PNWRPC:
"The National Resources Committee has been requested by the President to submit a report on the future of the
Roy Frederic Bessey, left, and Frederic Columbia Basin, which he is hoping will be helpful in A. Delano. determining the type of organization which would be set up for the planning, construction, and operation of certain public works in that area.
"The committee desires the assistance of the Pacific Northwest Regional Planning Commission for this work and requests your cooperation in securing a report for action by the advisory committee in Washington not later than November 1, 1935."
Ickes' letter set in motion a train of events which led ultimately to passage of the Bonneville Project Act of August 20, 1937.
The official legislative history of the Act covers only its enactment, not the numerous bills and preliminary steps in 1935 and 1936. Oregon Governor Martin complained in his April 22, 1937 testimony that 38 bills had been introduced. These years were characterized by slow development of public awareness concerning the transmission problem, gradual identification of specific issues, and eventual evolution of a compromise solution.
Had any quick action been taken, as requested by President Roosevelt, it probably would not have resulted in establishment of the Bonneville Power Administration.
In the usual legislative effort, the agency involved "carries the ball” for the Administration. The three agencies concerned – the Bureau of Reclamation, Corps of Engineers, and Federal Power Commission - had no incentive to be midwives for the birth of a new Federal agency, least of all the proposed Columbia Valley Authority. In view of this and other circumstances, BPA's birth had some miraculous aspects. 1935 Events The first legislative moves to market power from Bonneville Dam took place at the opening of the 74th Congress. On January 3, 1935, Washington Representative Knute Hill introduced H.R. 2790 to put the Bureau of Reclamation in charge of Columbia River development and power marketing, and to transfer Bonneville Dam upon its completion from the Corps of Engineers to the Bureau.
On January 14 Senator James P. Pope of Idaho introduced S. 869, and Representative Hill an identical bill in the House, to establish a Columbia Valley Authority (CVA). It would administer Columbia River development and take over Bonneville Dam from the Corps and Grand Coulee Dam from the Bureau.
Oregon Senators Charles McNary and Frederick Steiwer asked three Federal agencies – the Bureau of Reclamation, the Corps of Engineers, and the Federal Power Commission - to draft an alternative bill. On July 29 the Oregon Senators introduced the short S. 3330, and Washington Representative Martin Smith the same bill in the House. Its intent was to enable the Corps to operate Bonneville Dam, build main transmission trunk lines, and market and exchange power. The FPC would set rates. Oregon Representative Walter M. Pierce charged that the bill shortchanged the public.
On the recommendation of the three agencies, President Roosevelt endorsed S. 3330 in a letter July 26 to Senator Royal S. Copeland of New York, Senate Commerce Committee chairman. In his 1973 book Toward A National