This nation tackled a similar situation about a century ago, when faced with building big hydroelectric dams. Those dams were on the cutting edge of technology at the time, and they were risky endeavors that required hefty funding. The Hoover Dam, the Grand Coulee Dam and others were built with private investment -- backed by long-term, low-interest loans guaranteed by the U.S. government...
Hoover Dam is "operated by" the Bureau of Reclamation and as far as I can tell it was always a government project rather than a privately-owned one. This history of the construction, for example, makes it clear that the bids for construction were going to the Department of the Interior, not to any private enterprise.
It looks like the Grand Coulee was a WPA project, funded by the government as part of the Columbia Basin Project, and operated by the Bureau of Reclamation.
So as far as I can tell Ben Bova just made that part up whole cloth?