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Motive questioned as PSE improves Whidbey service

Public power advocates questioned Puget Sound Energy’s motives after the company announced plans to launch a new customer service office in Freeland Oct. 14.

“This is part of their campaign strategy,” David Metheny, campaign director for “People for Yes on Whidbey PUD,” said. “It’s a PR move.”

Three Washington counties (Skagit, Jefferson and Island) are turning up the rhetorical energy against Bellevue-based PSE as election time nears. On Whidbey Island, the group “People for Yes” has campaigned for a takeover of PSE’s assets in favor of a public utility district.

A measure will appear on the November ballot.

Gretchen Aliabadi, a spokesperson for PSE, said the new office was created in response to community demand and it just happened to parallel the PUD issue. It was designed to complement PSE’s other Whidbey Island office, which has operated in Oak Harbor since 1989.

“Planning for this began last year,” Aliabadi said.

Over a decade ago, she said PSE changed its model and closed its smaller bases, including one in Freeland, because of increasing deregulation and the energy crisis of 2000.

“However, we decided we really needed these offices and that they are best for our company,” she said.

The office will be managed by Walt Blackford, a Langley resident and that city’s former administrator and also staffed by Deborah Buse, a customer service representative and resident of Freeland.

In public forums, “People for Yes” often accused PSE of neglecting the local economy by hiring off-island service crews and employees. They linked this to slower energy restoration during storm season.

“I’m glad they’re providing jobs to island people. I just hope they include service crews for the transmission feeds to go along with their customer service,” Metheny said.

A press release by PSE stated that the Freeland office will promote energy efficiency and other traditional customer service and bill payment capabilities. The goal was to make it easy for new and existing customers to conveniently visit PSE at either end of Whidbey Island.

“We listened to our customers and are responding with this new office to help give area residents and businesses the necessary tools to conserve, be more energy efficient, and protect the environment, with personalized customer service,” Phil Bussey, senior vice president for Corporate Affairs at PSE, said in the release.

PSE signed a long-term lease for the building, located at 1794 Main St. A new service center was also opened in downtown Port Townsend in Jefferson County in June.

Metheny said that while it’s nice to have additional service, he remains skeptical of their intentions.

“Two out of the three areas hoping to bust loose of PSE, the company opened a customer service office there,” Metheny said.

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