Puget Sound Energy CEO jumps into PUD campaign

Puget Sound Energy CEO and president Stephen Reynolds is making a personal pitch to Whidbey residents, urging them to become more informed about the proposed takeover of the Bellevue-based utility’s service area by an island-based public utility district.

Puget Sound Energy recently sent a letter to all Whidbey residents, signed by Reynolds, that recounted the company’s long history on Whidbey.

“We are pleased to serve Whidbey and wish to continue that service in the future. I am personally committed to listening to your concerns and improving our service to address them,” Reynolds wrote in the letter, which started landing in local mailboxes last week.

The letter comes amid a spirited campaign for control of Whidbey’s power supply. “People For Yes on Whidbey PUD” is promoting a November ballot measure that would set up a Whidbey-based public utility district that would eventually take control of Puget Sound Energy’s territory on the island, and the proposal has been challenged by a well financed campaign supported by the power company.

In the letter, Reynolds also addressed the proposed merger with the company and an Australian-based investment group, one of the factors that fueled the PUD effort. The merger has also been a consistent topic of concern at forums held on the PUD proposal.

“Some Whidbey residents also say they are concerned about PSE’s proposed merger,” Reynolds wrote. “The fact is, this change gets us off the Wall Street roller coaster and provides stable funding for infrastructure projects and more clean, renewal energy facilities.”

PSE spokeswoman Gretchen Aliabadi said the letter was sent to all residents on Whidbey Island. She said Reynolds was inspired to write the letter in part because of the many questions about the ballot issue that have arisen.

“I think he feels very strongly about this,” she said, adding that he put his personal e-mail in the letter and has been responding to messages from Whidbey residents that he’s already received.

The letter was needed because many people have attended the public forums on the PUD issue but still want more details.

“Folks have been asking for information; ‘Hey, I don’t understand this ballot issue,’” Aliabadi said. “He wanted to get involved.”

The letter was paid for by Puget Sound Energy shareholders.

Dave Metheny, campaign director for “People For Yes On Whidbey PUD,” said the letter is part of the power company’s recent “rediscovery” of Whidbey.

“We’re happy to see PSE beginning to pay more attention to Whidbey Island,” Metheny said.

“Our only question is why it took the threat of forming a PUD to spur PSE into action, and how long it will take for PSE to start ignoring us again if our measure doesn’t pass in November.”

“In his letter, CEO Reynolds says that he hears the call for local control,” he added. “Then why is PSE selling to a foreign bank and foreign investors when there are local people in their service area who want to purchase the electrical system and operate it as a non profit corporation?”

Aliabadi said the company’s improvements on Whidbey Island that were highlighted in the letter, which include the opening of a customer service office in Freeland and details of upgrades to PSE’s electric infrastructure are not in response to the PUD effort.

“It takes a long time to plan things like this. You can’t just do it in a couple months,” she said.

Aliabadi said the company has realized that its centralized model for service has not worked well for the company and its customers, and so PSE is moving back to its previous model of manning local service offices.

Planning for the upgrade of the Useless Bay substation has been underway since 2006, and reliability improvements to power lines stemmed from the Hanukah Eve Windstorm in 2006.

“This is a long, involved process. After Election Day, we’re still not done,” she said. “This is going to keep going.”

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