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Lawmakers express concerns about Department of Energy memorandum

WASHINGTON, D.C. 6/13/12 (PennWell) -- A letter signed by 166 members of the U.S. Congress expresses concerns regarding Energy Secretary Steven Chu's recent memorandum to the Power Marketing Administrations that could raise hydropower fees, HydroWorld.com has learned.

In the letter, members of both the House and Senate say a directive issued in March by Chu to the Department of Energy's four Power Marketing Administrations (PMAs) -- the Bonneville Power Administration, Southeastern Power Administration, Southwestern Power Administration and Western Area Power Administration -- could increase consumer costs and expand the PMAs' authority beyond their intended scope.

"These bipartisan letters and related hearings should send a strong message: there is widespread concern over the need for these unprecedented directives and many unanswered questions from across the country and across the aisle," says Congressman Doc Hastings (R-Wash.), who serves on the House Natural Resources Committee. "What we need is more transparency."

Many of Chu's orders call for PMAs to alter their capital and strategic improvement plants in an effort to upgrade the nation's electrical grid, although lawmakers say Chu may have overlooked how it could potentially affect customers and utilities.

"While these are important public policy goals, we are concerned that these new initiatives have been put forward without sufficient evaluation of potential impacts to the customers of the clean, reliable electricity marketed by the PMAs," Congress' June 5 response said. "These proposals also constitute a fundamental shift away from regional planning, and the understanding of local needs and impacts that comes with it, towards a Washington, D.C.-based, top-down approach."

The bipartisan letter was signed by representatives from 38 states before being delivered by the House Natural Resources Committee, which held an oversight hearing on "Increased Electricity Costs for American Families and Small Businesses: The Potential Impacts of the Chu Memorandum" in April.

At the hearing, consumer-owned utility representatives expressed how Chu's memo would directly impact PMA consumers. Chu declined an invitation to testify.

According to documents obtained by HydroWorld.com, PMAs currently provide hydropower to more than 1,100 utilities in 34 states, providing power for about 40 million customers.


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