Energy Resources Policy and Administration

(Also known as: Northwest Energy Policy and Columbia River)

Join a distinguished team of faculty members and guest speakers in PSU’s annual winter seminar on Northwest Energy Policy and the Columbia River.
This course will review the history, politics, and institutions that influence Northwest energy policy. It will then explore many of the most important current and emerging energy policy and management issues that are particularly relevant to the Pacific Northwest with the help of a distinguished team of guest presenters.

Graduate Credit

  • PA567: Energy Resources Policy & Administration
  • CRN: 14545 (Fall 2021) 
  • Earn 3 graduate credits
  • Tuition: $1,347 and additional university fees

Professional Development (Non-Credit) Option

  • Earn a Professional Development Certificate
  • Cost: $1,347 and no additional university fees
  • Once registration is open, it will remain open for mid-career professionals until 5 pm on 10/10/2021. Since all sessions will be recorded and place in the course achieves, anyone who misses a session will be able to stream recordings at their convenience. However, we encourage to live stream class sessions and participate in class discussions whenever possible.

Click to view step-by-step instructions for payment and registration.

* The course syllabus available for review here is from Winter term 2021. It illustrates the approach this course offers, but the final set of energy policy topics that will be selected for the Fall 2021 edition will be determined by the course instructor after he receives guidance from the course participants during the first class session. Likely candidate energy policy topics are noted below.


This course was created in 1984 at the request of the Administrator of the Bonneville Power Administration (BPA) and has been offered annually ever since. For many years, BPA, Northwest utilities, the Energy Trust of Oregon, Northwest Energy Efficiency Alliance, state energy agencies and public utility commissions, law firms with a significant presence in the energy sector, energy consulting companies, advocacy organizations and coalitions, and other energy companies and agencies have encouraged and supported employees that these organizations have identified as future leaders to participate in this course. This participant mix leads to lively and informative class discussions. In fact, by participating in this class, employers have identified and recruited excellent future employees, and students have found excellent jobs in this fascinating field.  Many of the Northwest’s most respected energy leaders enrolled in this course earlier in their careers. Many have generously returned as guest speakers to help us prepare the next generation of energy leaders. BPA administrators have established a tradition of joining us as the concluding guest speaker to explain how he or she is attempting to balance the energy policy and management opportunities and challenges that BPA and the Northwest region are contending with and that we have explored in previous class sessions. We plan to invite John Hairston, BPA’s current Administrator, to join us as our wrap up speaker again this year.

Energy drove the industrial revolution and is driving the post-industrial revolution as well. Call centers, mobile phones, and quantum computers all share the need for reliable energy supplies. When combined, the transportation, building, and industrial energy industries create, by far, the largest economic sector in the world. Because of its socio-economic importance, as well as its substantial environmental footprint, the energy industry is heavily regulated and governed.

Against this backdrop, the electricity sector is undergoing especially turbulent times as traditional business models are being altered due to renewable energy targets, climate change legislation, and energy efficiency and distributed generation requirements. Utilities are being required to deliver renewable electricity to their customers, but the challenge of transporting the renewable electricity from rural to urban areas is increasingly difficult due to citizen and environmental opposition to new power lines.

Energy policy in the Northwest is quite different from other parts of the country. There are many reasons for our region’s “energy exceptionalism”. Here are nine of the most important ones: 

  • The Northwest’s power system is still dominated by hydroelectricity (although to a much lesser degree than a generation or two ago). 
  • Our region’s energy system is still largely defined by the Columbia River, but this river also provides other important uses and benefits that need to be balanced with hydropower generation; this inevitably leads to difficult trade-off decisions involving multiple stakeholders.
  • Fish and wildlife (including salmon and steelhead) mortality are our power system’s most significant environmental cost; wild salmon are sacred to Columbia Basin Tribes and are important to commercial and sports fishers and the environmental community; other stakeholders focus on the river’s important role as the economic engine of the region.
  • The Columbia River is an international river and the revisions to the Columbia River Treaty between the US and Canada that are currently being negotiated will have major implications for hydropower generation, flood control, and salmon recovery throughout the entire Columbia River Basin.
  • The Federal government has a usually significant presence in our region; it includes the BPA that markets and transits much of our region’s electricity and two federal agencies (US Army Corps of Engineers and Bureau of Reclamation) that own and operate 31 federal dams.
  • The Northwest has ensured a significant role for consumer-owned (or public power) utilities as well as investor-owned utilities.
  • No other region in the country has an inter-state compact like the Northwest Power and Conservation Council with its unique set of roles and responsibilities.
  • The region has a long history of coordination and cooperation, but it also has a history of regional infighting and deal making; many of our region’s most important historical “deals” remain relevant today, and those who ignore or are unaware of them are likely to trip up and fail.
  • The Northwest has taken the concept of energy efficiency as a power resource very seriously since 1980; the region is now embracing renewable energy, demand response, energy storage, community solar, grid modernization and the greening of the electric grid, energy and climate justice, and other components of a clean and just energy economy with a similar level of enthusiasm and commitment.

Course Content

This course explores the history, politics, and institutions related to current energy policy and administration, with particular attention to the distinctive nature of energy policy issues in the Pacific Northwest and the Columbia River Basin. It provides social science theories and analytical tools to help graduate students and energy professional navigate the complexities of the energy sector. It does so by:

  • Preparing students to perform analyses of energy sector projects and understand the regulatory environment in which the energy sector operates. 
  • Helping the students apply these analytic skills to a set of key energy policy issues that are particularly relevant to the Pacific Northwest and the Western US.  For example, we will examine the significance of hydropower in our region, what is distinctive about the institutional context of Northwest energy policy, energy efficiency, strategies to support grid resiliency and renewables integration, infrastructure siting, analyzing and engaging with energy stakeholders, energy sector modeling and policy analysis, integrated resource planning, addressing carbon impacts, and tips from the BPA Administrator on how he makes decisions and balances competing demands in an environment characterized by significant uncertainty.

The course begins by exploring some fundamental questions about energy policy in the Pacific Northwest: 

  • Why is energy policy an important topic for academic study and professional knowledge?
  • What are some of the most important energy policy decisions in our region over the past century that remain relevant today?
  • What is distinctive about the institutional context for Northwest energy policy?
  • What are some of the most important features we should know about the electricity and natural gas sectors?

Armed with this background information, we will be prepared to explore some of the most important current energy policy issues impacting our region.  We will do so with the help of some of the region’s most knowledge and prominent energy policy experts. Student suggestions will help guide the selection of policy topics, but candidate topics will include:

  • The movement to incorporate energy and climate justice perspectives into the energy policy-making process by advocating for equity in the social and economic participation in the energy system, while also remediating social, economic, and health burdens on marginalized “frontline communities” that have been historically harmed by the energy system.
  • Emerging strategies to support resilience, reliability, and flexibility in the generation, transmission, distribution, and consumption of energy.
  • The latest developments in integrated resource planning and distribution planning;
  • The role of energy sector economics, modeling and policy analysis;
  • Carbon and renewables regulation;
  • Community-scale renewable energy systems;
  • The latest developments involving energy efficiency, demand response, and other demand side management options;
  • Grid modernization and the greening of the grid;
  • Balancing salmon recovery, hydropower generation, and the other multiple uses of the Columbia and Snake Rivers: Lower Snake River Management and the pros and cons of dam breaching;
  • Where the Rubber meets the Road: How the BPA Administrator (John Hairston) balances the energy policy and management opportunities and challenges faced by BPA and the region’s broader energy community;
  • Student presentations on relevant and cutting edge energy policy topics.

Who Should Register?

This course is designed to serve three key audiences:

  • Graduate students from a wide range of disciplines at PSU and other local universities who are interested in understanding how and why our region’s energy policy has reached its current state, what our region’s current energy policy issues are and why they are important. This seminar’s official title for participants taking the course for graduate credit is Energy Resources Policy and Administration.
  • Mid-career professionals already working in the energy field, and others interested in advancing their careers or just learning more about this fascinating subject. A Professional Development Certificate is awarded upon successful completion of the course.
  • Students pursuing PSU's Graduate Certificate in Energy Policy and Management, for which PA 567 is one of two core courses.

Course Details

  • Date/Time: Wednesday, 6:40-9:20 pm, September 29 - December 8, 2021, 11 sessions
  • Location: PSU Parkmil Building, Room 11 (Zoom option also available)
  • Instructor: Dr. Hal Nelson, plus many guest speakers including Jeff Hammarlund who taught this course for 25 years prior to his retirement.
  • Continuing Legal Education (CLE) Credit will be available

Remote (Zoom) Option: This course has long been taught through a remote classroom, which has made it possible for interested participants living throughout the region and beyond to stream the course live on their personal devices and to use the chat function to ask questions and participate in class discussions. As a result, we have many years of experience offering this course remotely. In accordance with PSU's announcement of its return to campus starting Fall 2021, this course will be offered in person but the Zoom option will continue to be offered. In addition, all class participants will have access to recordings of each session which they can view at their convenience. 

Course Withdrawal Policy

Please see the Center for Public Service's course withdrawal policy for details.

Contact Information

Josh Metzler
Program Coordinator