Washington Public Power Supply System Debacle

In the late 1970s and early 1980s, OPALCO was swept up in the “Whoops!” Washington Public Power Supply System (WPPSS) debacle, the biggest and most notorious municipal bond default in U.S. history. 

OPALCO was one of 88 Northwest utilities pressured into sponsoring the construction of two nuclear plants that were never finished, and then got stuck with some of the $2.25 billion bill. OPALCO’s share of the debt was estimated at $45,000,000 over thirty years, which would have meant a 60% rate increase for members—while getting nothing!

OPALCO Board membre Leon Fonnesbeck convened a summit of regional co-op leaders to brainstorm a way forward. In a bold move, OPALCO was the first utility to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection at the end of 1982 to ensure the Co-op’s survival. Within six months, the Washington State Supreme Court released all 88 utilities from any debt repayment to WPPSS, and OPALCO withdrew its bankruptcy filing.

Photo by Walter Siegmund.