The Exchange offers chance to ask PUD questions

With 62 days left until decision day, it’s clear that there are more questions than answers concerning a potential switch to a local public utility district.

On Nov. 4, voters will decided if they want to part ways with Puget Sound Energy, the current provider of energy on the island, and start a publicly-owned and regulated utility.

The South Whidbey Record and the Clinton Community Club are sponsoring The Exchange “What does a PUD mean to Whidbey?” and it’s a chance for residents to squeeze some answers out of PUD supporters and PSE officials, alike.

The community forum will be from 7 to 9 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 9 at Clinton Community Hall.

“This is one of the most important decisions our voters will make when voting in November,” said Sherry Mays, The Record’s publisher.

“We owe it to ourselves to get educated on the subject, to come out and ask questions. This subject is so deep. I’m not sure we can cover the entire issue in one forum,” she added. “However, I hope people leave feeling they’ve learned a bunch about how a PUD will affect them.”

Many voters have been troubled by the conflicting information provided by the two sides.

PSE claims it would cost a minimum of $130 million to take over the utility, and company officials have stressed that Whidbey PUD commissioners would have taxing authority that would not require a public vote for property tax increases.

PUD supporters say the takeover costs will be much cheaper than those detailed in a recent PSE-sponsored study, in the range of $80 million, but have not yet released a comparable report.

PUD supporters also say commissioners will be accountable to voters and they won’t pass a property tax increase if it isn’t supported by residents.

“This really isn’t an emotional issue, based on dislike of an investor-owned utility,” Mays said.

“It is an issue about possibly bettering our electric service or potentially harming the service we already have. Without all the answers, I’m not sure how any of us could make an educated decision.”

Officials from both camps will participate on a panel during the forum.

Puget Sound Energy’s CEO Bert Valdman will attend the meeting along with engineer Kit Maret and UtiliPoint consultant Bob Bellemare, said Dom Amor, the local government and community relations manager for PSE.

“People For Yes on Whidbey PUD,” the group leading the fight for a PUD on the island, will send representatives, as well.

The highlight of their presentation will be the introduction of their cost study.

“The numbers are being blessed by our engineering priest as we speak,” said campaign director Dave Metheny.

It will be the first time people will get a look at calculations by the local PUD group.

Metheny also said the group is ready to clear up some misinformation that has been made public.

At a recent forum for the Council of Governments, Steve Johnson, executive director of Washington Public Utility Association, suggested that the local PUD, if approved could simply overbuild or build its own electrical system if PSE is not willing to sell.

Metheny said that’s an option, but not one “People for Yes” is seriously considering.

“It’s been done, it’s allowed by law, but, uhmm, no,” he said.

Johnson will also be at the Exchange to answer questions about PUDs in Washington.

Gary Saleba of EES Consulting in Kirkland will serve as a utilities consulting expert. His focus is on infrastructure, rates and condemnation, and his company just completed a report on PSE rates; the study was paid for by the Washington Public Utility Association.

Island County Commissioner John Dean will represent the board of commissioners.

Michaela Marx Wheatley can be reached at 221-5300 or mmarxwheatley@south

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