LETTER TO THE EDITOR: PUD vote is a first step
September 24, 2008 · Updated 1:35 PM
To the editor:
I believe that the decision regarding the formation of a “public utilities district” is one of the more important issues facing us in this upcoming election.
Consequently, I have spent a considerable amount of time going to three different meetings, reading the reports, and spending several hours discussing the issue with a member of the “Yes for Whidbey PUD” committee.
All of this effort has helped me sort out the facts and real issues, and has lead me to the conclusion that I personally will vote yes for the upcoming ballot initiative to form a PUD on Whidbey Island. I would like to share my reasoning with you.
First of all, be very clear that this initiative is not about buying an electric system and all of the costs and complexities that go along with it. This initiative is about forming a PUD for the purpose of allowing for a more formal process of assessing the idea and then making a well informed decision about whether or not to move forward with a public power supply. PUDs can also serve other less expensive and less complicated purposes for a community
To a very real extent I believe that the current issue has been blurred by the rhetoric and spin on both sides about the pros and cons of owning an electric system with very little factual material being presented. It has taken me a considerable amount of time to sort this out.
The two main issues are reliability of service (number and length of outages) and the high and increasing costs of our power.
With respect to reliability of service, let me say that I personally do not have any problems with the service provided from Puget Sound Energy. My power is on probably 99 percent of the time. They have been responsive when I have made phone calls.
The other issue is when we have catastrophic outages like the one in 2006 which probably motivated this movement.
Without going into a lot of detail, I have asked questions and read the material and have come to the conclusion that a PUD could not conclusively persuade me that their service and reliability would be significantly better than what I currently personally experience.
There is apparently objective data which does indicate that South Whidbey is at the bottom of the list for reliability. This again is not my experience but others may feel differently.
My conclusion is that with respect to this issue, service probably will not be much better or worse than what I currently experience.
The second issue is that of cost and consistently rising rates. This argument is given more strength by the fact thatPuget Sound Energy most likely will be sold to a foreign authority whose profit motive will be even stronger and who will have even more incentive to raise rates and less incentive to provide good service. The most recent report put out by the proponents of the PUD makes a case for lower rates over the long run.
However, as well intentioned as this report is, it is a rather informal study of the situation undertaken by numerous volunteers. This includes various scenarios for the actual purchase price. There is of course a great disparity between the PUD projected cost and that of Puget Sound Energy. The fact is that this will most likely be sorted out in court.
With respect to cost, it seems true that one thing both sides agree upon is that rates would be higher for Whidbey Island for the first five to six years.
For my situation, which is probably relatively average, this would cost me approximately $300 to $350 extra over that period of time. After this initial start-up phase, it appears that rates would be significantly lower than those we would pay from a private utility.
Make no mistake about it; this is a long term investment. Unlike proponents of other issues, I do not presume to know or understand the finances of other individual families to know whether this extra expense would be a burden or not. Voting to pay this extra money over five or six years to possibly affect a better long-term situation will depend upon individual circumstances. All I can say is that for me it is a worthwhile investment to pursue the issue.
These two main issues and some secondary issues such as local control, and job creation are certainly important when it comes to buying an electric system. None of these issues or the arguments for either side are currently well documented or overly convincing to me at this time.
Most arguments and data appear to be rather superficial. I for one would not have nearly enough information to vote today to enter the electrical business.
The rhetoric, spin, and minimal information out there is just enough to convince me that we as a community should pursue this matter in a more formal way. This would be through the formation of a PUD. This PUD would then do their own formal feasibility study and make a final recommendation to the community whether or not to proceed.
My yes vote does not come without some reservations.
First of all if we establish a PUD we are establishing another taxing authority. We are placing this authority in the hands of some commissioners that we do not know. I am hopeful that there will be some candidate meetings prior to the election so that we might find out more about their thoughts about using their taxing authority. Establishing the PUD will automatically seat three commissioners.
In essence we would be writing these people a blank check up to a certain levy limit.
All that I can say for now is that I have had minimal contact with the candidates. My sense is that they are all reasonable, community minded people who I believe want to do right by the community. But I have not heard any formal statements from them. I will feel much better about my yes vote in November if between now and then they become more visible.
Secondly, as previously stated, I could not make a decision today about whether or not to vote yes to get into the electric business.
This is not what this vote is about. That decision is for another day. The information simply is not available. There is however, enough information for me to say to continue on with the process and do a formal feasibility study. This could only be done through the establishment of a PUD.
My public statement that I will vote yes for this measure is being accompanied by a public request of each candidate.
If the feasibility study indicates benefit to our community to actually pursue buying Puget Sound Energy assets and running our own electric company, the commissioners, by way of referendum, allow us to actually have a public vote on this issue to make the final decision.
Again, I am concerned that by voting to establish a PUD to further assess the electricity issue, we are automatically seating a board of commissioners with significant authority whom we know nothing about. Hopefully these issues will be resolved prior to Election Day so that I might with a clear conscience vote “yes” on the PUD issue.
We are not now voting to get into the electricity business. We are voting to pursue the various options for electric power which affect our community.