What Is Whoops?

Whoops is a negative slang word used at one time in history for the former Washington Public Power Supply System (WPPSS). Formed in the 1950s to ensure consistent electrical power for the Pacific Northwest, WPPSS did not succeed on many fronts, hence its nickname of "Whoops".

Key Takeaways

  • Whoops is a rude slang term for the Washington Public Power Supply System.
  • Today, the Washington Public Power Supply Company is called Energy Northwest company and is no longer referred to as "Whoops."
  • In the 1980s, the company faced a series of expensive setbacks.
  • In 1983 the Washington Public Power Supply Company was responsible for the largest municipal debt default in history.

Understanding Whoops

Whoops, or WPPSS, financed construction of five nuclear power plants by issuing billions of dollars in municipal bonds in the 1970s and 1980s.

In 1983, because of extremely poor project management, construction on some plants was canceled, and completion of the remaining plants seemed unlikely.

Consequently, the take-or-pay arrangements that had been backing the municipal bonds were ruled void by the Washington State Supreme Court. As a result, in 1983, the WPPSS had the largest municipal debt default in history.

Early History of Whoops

Nuclear power became popular in the 1960s when it was perceived as clean and inexpensive. WPPSS or Whoops saw this as an opportunity to meet the growing demand for power in its region. It scheduled five nuclear power plants financed by a public bond issuance to be repaid with proceeds from the plants. The bonds were issued, but sales did not meet expectations.

The Packwood Lake Dam, its first project, ran seven months over the scheduled completion date. This was the beginning of WPPSS’ public works problems.

The construction problems at the plant included cost overruns and poor project management. Contractors leveraged government inefficiency and overcharged and under-delivered.

This caused safety inspectors to demand more stringent rules, which were implemented mid-construction by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC). As a result, much of the project had to be scrapped then redesigned and rebuilt.

High Costs and Big Trouble

At the beginning of the 1980s, only one of the five WPPSS plants was close to complete. And to add insult to injury, by then, nuclear power was found not to be as cheap and beneficial as claimed, and public opinion turned against it.

Some cities in the region even boycotted nuclear power before the facilities were up and running. Cost overruns continued to where more than $24 billion would have been required to complete the work. But the low power sales could not cover the deficits. Construction halted on all but the near-completed second plant. The first plant again had to be redesigned.

The Washington Public Power Supply System was forced to default on $2.25 billion in municipal bonds. The second plant finally became operational in 1984, but it too little too late for investors. On Christmas Eve 1988, a $753 million settlement was reached. The structure of the settlement meant that investors earned between $0.10 and $0.40 cents per dollar invested.

Special Considerations

The WPPS changed into Energy Northwest in 1998, and the moniker of "Whoops" is now antiquated.