LETTER TO THE EDITOR: To PUD or not to PUD
September 29, 2008 · 8:30 AM
To the editor:
The case being made is that Whidbey Island will have more affordable and reliable electric energy if we are served by a PUD.
Most of my career has been spent working for clean and affordable energy, including several years at Seattle City Light and the Washington State Energy Office. (I do not have any personal or financial connections to Puget Sound Energy.)
I’m not convinced that the proposed PUD is good for our community.
Even PUDs have outages. Having a locally controlled electric utility doesn't guarantee the power won't go out.
It's true that in years past, winter storms left many of us without power for several days. Recently, however, Puget Sound Energy has significantly improved reliability by adding power line redundancy and by completing an ambitious - some would say too ambitious – tree-trimming program. My recent experience on South Whidbey is that the lights are pretty much staying on and that outages are brief.
Cost savings are unlikely. A new small PUD that has to build a new administrative structure loses the economies of scale that go with a bigger utility. We would be reinventing the wheel to create our own billing software, meter reading program, line maintenance department, conservation programs and so forth.
For example, residential customers of Orcas Power and Light Coop, in the San Juan Islands, pay a $25/month customer charge compared to Puget Sound Energy’s $6/month customer charge.
Which leads me to my next point.
Electric bills are more important than rates. Most of the talk has been about electric rates, but electric bills are what people care about.
Electric bills include two charges: the fixed "customer charge” mentioned above and the variable charge for energy use. Because the PUD will start with a huge amount of debt with relatively few customers, it is likely that the customer charge may be significant.
This means that no matter how careful you are about using electricity in your home or business, most of your electric bill will be the same every month. This creates little reward for investing in energy efficiency – the single most effective way to meet growing energy demands and climate protection goals.
Bonneville power is a limited resource.
Bonneville Power Administration has set aside a relatively small amount of low-cost power for new public utilities (about four times what Oak Harbor uses) – but that power has to be shared by all new PUDs in Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Western Montana.
Where will the rest of our power come from? Just like financial markets, energy markets are highly volatile – a lesson Seattle City Light learned the hard way in 1999 when it almost went bankrupt.
Environmental concerns. Puget Sound Energy has one of the best energy conservation programs in the country; it pays up to 100 percent of the cost for energy conservation measures for commercial and residential customers.
Puget Sound Energy is also a national leader in renewable energy resources. Its Green Power Program is rated number seven out of 800 in the country by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. Further, Puget Sound Energy owns and operates two large wind generation facilities and a large solar project and is actively engaged in policies, programs and regulations that reduce climate pollution. As a customer, these are policies that I think reflect our community values.
Governance. Just because Puget Sound Energy is an investor owned utility, doesn’t mean we are at the mercy of corporate moguls; we have access to the state Utility and Transportation Commission which is legally obligated to consider consumer interests. Commission members are appointed by the governor.
Puget Sound Energy, while far from perfect, is a regulated electric provider that encourages conservation and provides a green power option, at a price that is most likely lower than I’d pay with a new utility.
I prefer to spend my time and money pursuing guaranteed savings: efficiency and local distributed generation, both of which are supported by Puget Sound Energy.