Tuesday, December 18, 2018

A Tribute to Tony Usibelli (Energy News, WA Dept of Commerce, Energy Division, Olympia, WA)

By Howard Schwartz

When I joined the original Washington State Energy Office in 1989, Tony was already a legend in Northwest energy conservation circles. He had just convinced the Bonneville Power Administration to fund an Energy Ideas Clearinghouse – a project he had conceived with other Energy Office staff to provide a one-stop service for commercial energy consumers seeking advice on how to use electricity more efficiently. Long after he moved on to other projects and greater responsibilities, the clearinghouse flourished, attracting funders including the U.S. Department of Energy, becoming national in its coverage and a core of the Washington State University Energy Program.

Tony came to Olympia in 1985 from the Lawrence Berkeley Lab in California, the foremost American research institution on energy efficiency. He was a good fit for the dynamic and innovative Energy Office. Tony had a passion for energy efficiency and clean energy as well as a sense of how the office could be a leading edge of environmental policy.

A key to Tony’s success as a leader is that he is extraordinarily disciplined and organized. To him, effectiveness comes from organizing your own time, and that means spending as little time as possible organizing the time of others. Anyone who has worked with Tony knows that his first principle of managing people is to let them do their jobs. He always tried to hire people who were the smartest, most knowledgeable and willing and able to work on their own. These qualities enabled him to have long runs as the Assistant Director for Energy, Energy Office Director, and Special Assistant to the Director for Energy and Climate Policy.

Tony understood early on that climate change would define energy and environmental policy for the next century. He set out to become a climate expert even as he managed energy efficiency programs. This climate policy vision would stay with him throughout his career, and looking back, it is hard to think of a climate change policy process that did not involve Tony. Here is a sample: Western Climate Initiative? He was the Washington Energy Office representative. Pacific Climate Partnership? He led the Washington staff work for it. Western Interstate Energy Board? He was the Washington member for 20 years and held every executive board position including chair. Washington state legislation and ballot measures? Tony worked with advocates, other state agencies, and the governor’s office to marry sound science and policy with political strategy. National Energy and Climate Policy? For many years Tony was on the Board of Directors of the National Association of State Energy Officials. He has given presentations at hundreds of meetings and conferences around the country and abroad.

You would rarely read in the news media about Tony’s work. As a colleague noted, “Tony seems to know everybody and yet is almost never the one getting the attention.” To those who know Tony, this is hardly surprising. His interest is always in getting the job done, never in taking credit. He is a classic public servant who understands how to support elected officials and their political appointees and to earn their trust. For more than 30 years he has been a trusted source of accurate information and honest advice.

It would be unfair to give Tony all the credit for his career success, because that would overlook the great support he has received from Heidi, his wife of forty years – I know how long, because we share our wedding anniversary dates. In recent years their roles have changed due to illness, and their relationship through this transition has been an inspiring example to the rest of us. As in everything else, Tony adjusts to whatever life hands him and uses his organizational skills to structure his life so what needs to be done gets done. In some sort of care-giving jujitsu, he uses the situation to broaden the experiences that both he and Heidi have. And should I mention that he is also responsible for the care of his mother, who is a centenarian, living in a residential facility in Olympia?

I could go on at length about Tony’s role in fostering recreational bicycling in Olympia, playing many kinds of sports, following professional sports, reading nearly a book a day, keeping up with movies and classical archaeology (his college major), playing bridge, and making bad puns. Instead I will just mention that in addition to all of his other attributes, he has been a great and loyal friend to me and others whom he and Heidi have known for decades. I know that Tony will be missed in government circles, but I also know that he will continue to make Olympia and the broader community a better place to live and work.

Howard Schwartz worked at the Washington State Energy Office from 1989 until his retirement in 2013.

Public Power Council Comment on Bonneville Power Administration River Operations Agreement (Public Power Council, Portland, OR)

(PORTLAND, OR) –  Last week, the Bonneville Power Administration signed an agreement with the States of Oregon and Washington and the Nez Perce Tribe to temporarily halt years of litigation around a regional salmon protection plan.  The agreement is for three years and is intended to provide more water for migrating fish while not increasing costs to regional power customers.  Details of the agreement have only recently been made public, and much of it still needs technical modeling and state-run processes to ensure its feasibility and adherence to stated goals.

“Public power customers recognize the goal and potential benefits of moving beyond the courtroom by agreeing on actions for ESA-listed salmon that are conducted in an economical manner,” said Scott Corwin, Executive Director of the Public Power Council.  “Yet, until there is greater clarity around the operations and costs of the agreement, we cannot be certain it provides the intended benefits to fish or to electric utility ratepayers.  The parties will need to ensure that implementation of this outline provides all the expected benefits without further risk to electricity consumers or to protected fish.”

Flexible Spill Agreement Aims to Benefit Salmon & Hydropower (Joint Statement of: State of Oregon – Washington State – Nez Perce Tribe - Bonneville Power Administration – U.S. Army Corps of Engineers - Bureau of Reclamation

(PORTLAND, OR) -- Federal, State and Tribal partners have come together to develop an agreement on a key component of operating federal dams in the Columbia River Basin. Parties to the agreement have aligned on a flexible spring spill operation premised on achieving improved salmon survival while also managing costs in hydropower generation. Key supporters of the agreement are jointly issuing this statement:

“Collaboration is key to this new approach to Columbia River system management. Working together, the region’s states, tribes, and federal agencies have developed an approach that demonstrates environmental stewardship and affordable sustainable energy are not mutually exclusive.”

The agreement Parties are the states of Oregon and Washington, the Nez Perce Tribe, the Bonneville Power Administration, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Bureau of Reclamation. In addition, the states of Idaho and Montana reviewed the agreement and are supportive of the flexible operation.
The agreement covers up to three years of fish passage spill operations at eight lower Columbia and Snake River dams. During this time, the agreement avoids litigation while the co-lead agencies complete the Columbia River System Operations Environmental Impact Statement Records of Decision.

The agreement calls for flexible spill operations that meet three objectives: provide additional fish benefits by increasing spill; manage power system costs and preserve hydro system flexibility; and retain operational feasibility. Specifically, these operations involve increased spill during certain times of the day for fish migration and lesser amounts for the hours when hydropower production is needed most.

The parties have agreed to engage in a transparent and collaborative manner to implement this agreement. This agreement is an important step forward for the parties and the region. Rather than focusing on our differences, we are working together on our shared objectives of improving salmon passage and providing affordable hydropower for the region’s electricity consumers.

PNGC Power Statement on Federal Columbia River Power System Spill Operation Agreement (Pacific Northwest Generating Cooperative, Portland, OR)

(PORTLAND, OR) -- PNGC Power appreciates the recent collaborative efforts of the States of Oregon and Washington, the Nez Perce Tribe, and the federal action agencies to get out of the courtroom and design an operational solution for spring and summer river operations that could be good for both salmon and the multiple users of the river system.

This is potentially a step in the right direction, but ideally the settlement would include the States of Idaho and Montana, as well as other parties of the endless litigation. In part, because a partial settlement may not be a lasting settlement.

Additionally, given the lack of a public process, PNGC will need more information before making a judgement on:
  • How the agreement impacts power rates;
  • How increased/unprecedented spill levels insisted on by Oregon (up to 125 TDG) impact ESA listed salmon; and
  • The extent to which the increases in spill exacerbate carbon emissions associated with energy consumption in the western United States.

Statement from NW RiverPartners: Power and Fish Agreement to Pause Litigation, Questions Remain (News Release, NW RiverPartners)

(PORTLAND, OR) – Northwest RiverPartners appreciates the spirit of collaboration between states, tribes and federal agencies that has led to this short-term agreement around operations of the federal hydropower system. We are encouraged that this agreement intends to put a temporary halt to the ongoing litigation that for so long has ill-served our region. 

At the same time, we are concerned about the unprecedented and scientifically unproven levels of new spill being contemplated by the agreement – particularly in 2020 and 2021. Further, many details remain unclear, making it difficult to determine whether goals of the agreement will materialize. We are also concerned with the potential adverse effects on carbon emission reduction goals that appear to have not been adequately analyzed. 

In 2020 and 2021 the agreement considers levels of spill that are not supported by current science or allowed under existing state water quality standards.  The agreement proposes operating the federal dams during some spring hours of each day at higher levels of spill while also providing lower levels of spill during other periods of the day when power is more valuable. Spill can be a useful tool to aid salmon in migrating downstream; however, too much spill can cause gas bubble trauma in fish, which can harm or even kill them.

This is why NWRP has called on the Washington Department of Ecology to conduct a rigorous science review before granting any waiver to the existing water quality standards.  The Department established these standards explicitly to protect salmon and other aquatic species. Given this, the possible adverse effects of increased spill on endangered salmon and other aquatic species should not be ignored simply to avoid future litigation. There also needs to be rigorous monitoring and accountability for this new proposed operation with mechanisms in place to reduce spill levels if they begin to negatively affect fish survival. 

Public utilities are responsible for providing reliable, affordable carbon free energy to their customers and have been supportive of the federal agencies’ management plans for the federal hydropower system. The public power community understands and can appreciate the goals of the agreement but needs more information to ensure those goals can be realized and to better understand the costs, benefits and risks of the agreement to customers, salmon and the Northwest’s environment.

BPA states it will continue to work collaboratively with the parties to the agreement to refine the analysis and determine final spring spill operations, particularly in 2020 and 2021 when higher levels of spill may be pursued.

Given the significance of this complex agreement, in the coming days and months, we look forward to gaining a better understanding of it – including an understanding of the full suite of benefits and risks to Northwest ratepayers and the multi-purpose users of the river system. We look forward to working closely with the federal agencies, the states, and regional stakeholders to ensure that this agreement is implemented in a manner that maximizes the value of our region’s carbon free hydropower resource, protects ratepayers, and protects ESA listed salmon species.