Opinion

VIEWPOINT | Local PUD will return

Some said, offer it and they will come. We say, explain it and they will vote!

A Whidbey Public Utility District went down in flames, a dramatic turn around from the petition phase.

What happened? There are many stories but the overwhelming consensus seems to be not enough information. Certainly not enough hard believable information on costs, taxes and just what authority would the elected commissioners actually have. Public meetings singing the virtues of a PUD were not enough, certainly not after the wave of misleading information and costs given by Puget Sound Energy. The average voter does not have the time to sort through the staggering amount of data, figures and laws to make sense of things; they depend on a group to offer hard facts — not hypotheticals.

The past is now history, but there are many people who were able to do the research and understand the value, and indeed necessity, of a Whidbey PUD. I am a strong believer in a PUD, especially since I was involved from the beginning and know the facts. Although I bowed out when things got off track, that does not change the value of a Whidbey PUD.

We feel that the information must be broken down into manageable bites of data. A new pro-PUD group must be formed, build trust, truly be a grassroots effort and be independent of off-island influence. Only then can the data presented be believed.

The last effort happened in a rush, spurred on by the specter of PSE being gobbled up by a foreign conglomerate and the fact that a PUD can only be voted on in even years. The seed was planted and awareness was raised and, with the luxury of time, our new group will provide manageable, understandable and relevant information during the next two years.

The last group was essentially composed of only three people and too few volunteers to spread the enormous load. We will, in the next few months, attempt to bring together a fresh new group of diverse individuals from the entire Island.

The impact of PSE’s financial situation and the advantages of a PUD spreads across not only individual ratepayers, but the entire business community. The fact is that the long-term, skyrocketing PSE costs would be contained by the new PUD and not be subject to the poor financial condition of PSE or Macquaries dependence on a crashing world bond market. A PUD’s lower rates should have been a lessor issue compared to the enormous financial impact of the rates collected staying here on Whidbey and the 50-plus good paying jobs and those pay checks being spent here. For every dollar from a local PUD spent here, it is multiplied two to three times in supporting local business. The tens of millions that would have stayed here on Whidbey instead of going out of the state or country could be making a huge difference during this very difficult economy.

Our new Whidbey PUD group will pledge to be a real grassroots effort and not have a financial interest in PSE or any off-Island group. The last effort did precious little to raise money locally, instead relying on outside interests and the resulting strings. We will immediately work to educate Whidbey business why it is to their financial advantage to have a local PUD. Understanding this information, I firmly believe that island business as well as ratepayers will rally to support the effort.

So there you have it; a new, fresh and focused Whidbey PUD effort.

This effort will seek capable people that understand the long-term value of a PUD. Experience in a campaign would be great, but anyone who is willing to give any time will be a valuable part of the effort and very welcome. We will have a written campaign strategy that is realistic and strictly followed. We will have committees for each segment of the campaign education process. Our focus will cover many areas such as: The enormous financial impact on the business community and jobs. Explore ways to increase reliability such as an underwater line from the South End. The potential to integrate green power into our system and build local jobs. Green power like tidal, solar and wind could create an entirely new business segment here and bring us closer to energy independence in the future.

We will look at how to build in a real incentive program for conserving energy with financial incentives besides just compact fluorescent bulbs. We will explain just what authority a PUD commissioner will have and NOT have.

We will recruit candidates who would pledge to not raise taxes beyond a feasibility study without a vote and offer a financial/business plan that everyone can understand with realistic cost figures.

So there you have it; the potential to rectify a loss that will cost us dearly over the next years, but we can take steps now to correct that impact as soon as possible. The world, national and state economy are in for some trying times, but we can dig in and look to the future and make sure we don’t lose this opportunity again. Please contact me if you feel the same, would like more information or like to be part of this movement. I will be organizing local focus groups to discuss the direction a Whidbey PUD should take early in January 2009. Look for the announcements.

Author Ed Jenkins can be reached at localpower@live.com.

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