UPDATE: PSE pays for anti-PUD campaign

Whidbey Consumers for Affordable Energy, the group that planted countless anti-PUD yard signs across the island this weekend, isn’t a Whidbey consumer at all but the brainchild of a political strategy firm funded by Puget Sound Energy.

Many locals wondered who the mysterious new player was in the battle over creating a public utility district on Whidbey Island after the anti-PUD yard signs popped up on the island from Clinton to north of Oak Harbor this weekend. The signs show a power outlet and the phrase “pull the plug.”

Local PUD supporters have pushed since April to take over PSE’s assets and territory on the island, promising cheaper, more reliable service. PSE, the Bellevue-based utility that provides electricity to Whidbey Island and more than a million customers in Western Washington, has vowed to keep its 34,000 customers on the island.

Karen Waters of Strategies 360, a Seattle-based political and business strategy consulting firm, said the group is reaching out to residents who are concerned about the impact of a PUD on the island.

Waters did not name any local members or contacts.

“Puget Sound Energy is the sole contributor at this point,” Waters said. “We are reaching out across the island for supporters.”

She said Whidbey Consumers for Affordable Energy has concerns about the economic impact on customers, and added that the proposal to form a local PUD has flaws.

“You only get to vote on this once. If voters sign off on this, they basically give the PUD leaders a blank check,” she said.

According to the Public Disclosure Commission, the state’s watchdog on political campaigns, the group is based in Oak Harbor, but the treasurer for the group is Philip Lloyd of Seattle.

Lloyd is also the treasurer for the Skagit Committee for Reliable and Affordable Energy and Jefferson County Citizens against Proposition 1. Efforts to start public utility districts are also underway in those counties.

Lloyd, a Seattle-based accountant, declined to comment Monday, but he confirmed that the group is “doing some work regarding some energy measures on the ballot in November.”

The three groups all filed with the Public Disclosure Commission as political action committees on Aug. 7. Lloyd is listed as the treasurer for each group.

No other contacts have been listed for the three groups in paperwork filed with the state; the box that lists the campaign manager for each anti-PUD committee has been left blank.

Lloyd has been the treasurer on various campaigns in recent years, including the “No on 920,” an initiative to repeal the estate tax that failed at the ballot box in November 2006.

He was also involved as the treasurer of a political action committee formed to elect three candidates to the Seattle school board in 2005, and was treasurer on Jean Godden’s campaign to get elected to the Seattle City Council in 2007.

Dave Metheny, the campaign director for “People For Yes on Whidbey PUD,” the group that started the push for a local PUD, said the signs were the first he heard of the group.

“The group seems to have spilled hundreds of yard signs from north to south along the roads and highways of the island,” Metheny said.

“My wife and I came home at about 9 p.m. and we went back out at about 11 a.m. Monday morning, and we noticed the first ones at the Chevron corner,” he said. “We drove up the island in the afternoon to north of Oak Harbor and they were everywhere.”

“Either way, this is not a good way to introduce themselves, whoever they are,” Metheny said. “The tactic is a little different. I guess if you’re not familiar with the island culture, you don’t know that this is not the way to go.”

“People For Yes” is also setting out signs, but only where supporters have received permission.

Metheny said he called road and highway departments and found that the signs are placed in public right-of-ways and have to be removed at taxpayers’ expense.

“People for Yes” has raised $12,965 for the campaign and has spent $5,903 so far, according to records on file with the state Public Disclosure Commission.

The three groups formed to fight the creation of PUDs in Island, Skagit and Jefferson counties have reported no contributions and no expenditures through Sept. 2.

Record writer Brian Kelly contributed to this report.

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