Bonneville Power Administration Searches for a New Leader

Bonneville Dam

Last month Bonneville Power Administration Administrator Elliot Mainzer announced his departure after nearly seven years leading the agency. On August 28th, U.S. Department of Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette announced that John Hairston, BPA’s Chief Operating Officer, would be the Interim Administrator and CEO until a permanent replacement for Mainzer could be named.

Mainzer’s decision to exit the region for the opportunity to lead the California Independent System Operator (CAISO), signaled the beginning of a season of regional political intrigue for followers of the agency. As one of the most coveted and powerful, if not most highly paid, positions in the region’s energy universe, the process of searching for and selecting a new Administrator will reach into the board rooms and executive suites of public and private utilities, public interest groups, Indian tribes, Northwest governors’ offices, and the Northwest congressional delegation.

Because BPA is a federal agency within the Department of Energy, the final selection for the new Administrator will likely fall to Deputy Secretary of Energy Mark Menezes. The timeline for the selection, however, has not been announced. A decision could be made before the end of 2020 or later in 2021.

The Administrator job is a career Senior Executive Service (SES) appointment. Yet the selection often appears to require an informal affirmative nod from senior members of the Northwest congressional delegation. The Northwest Congressional delegation rightly has a strong interest in BPA given its importance to the economy and well-being of the region. These Senators and House Members affirm their desire to lead on those objectives through their usual desire to seek positions on congressional committees that have jurisdiction over BPA, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and Bureau of Reclamation. Given that, they will want appropriate input into the selection process.

Specific candidates will likely be put forth by utility groups and others for consideration by DOE, and political pressure will most assuredly be applied by people of influence. But the process will be guided by federal SES hiring practices and the Deputy Secretary will have his work cut out for him navigating regional energy politics, federal hiring practices, and any number of other forces that might be brought bear. Hang on. It could be a wild ride.