PUD is a bad idea

Several years ago I wrote a horribly sarcastic letter to the paper in response to a proposal for a PUD. I have been asked to repeat same without the sarcasm, so here goes.

I’ll be up front in the matter; I used to work for PSE. I left their employ for reasons having to do with worker safety and lack of on-going, in-depth maintenance. As a Union Represented System-Operator Level 5, both of these issues were of paramount concern to me since I dealt with them (and their ramifications) on a daily basis. I have no love lost for the company, but then again, I have no ax to grind either. All things being said, they upheld their end of the employment bargain and I’d like to think I held my end up, something to be said for in today’s work environment.

First off, right out of the gate I think that the PUD is a really, really bad idea. You might ask yourself, “Why would he say this?” It’s a simple but really, really long answer that I will do my best to recap.

I would like to start my answer with getting an electrical system to call our own. How do we do such a thing? It’s easy; we take the private property of Puget Sound Energy and pay them as little as possible, all under the guise of a PUD. Simple process, long time to fruition, much legal wrangling and expense. When it’s all said and done, what we’ll own is poles and wires on Whidbey Island. PSE will still provide power to the island and we’ll be left holding the IOU’s and paying for electricity. We’ll have no support infrastructure, billing capability, purchasing department, substation maintenance department, line crew headquarters (let alone line crews themselves), trucks, equipment, meter department, etc., etc. In addition to all that, we’ll probably owe consultants and lawyers something akin to the national debt for stealing the system in the first place.

What Whidbey currently benefits from, as far as costs are concerned, is a large customer base. It’s not us; it’s Bellevue, Burlington, Auburn, Kent and other dense municipalities. These areas have many customers for every mile of distribution wire; their electrical rates would be considerably less than current if PSE only served those areas.

The other end of the spectrum is Point Roberts. For those of you who are not familiar with it, look it up on a map. To get to this slice of the U.S. you need to go to the Canadian border, cross into Canada, go to Twassen then turn left back to the U.S.A. There you’ll find an American community served by PSE. The power there is actually delivered to the border by BC Hydro. They sell it to PSE at an exorbitant rate (roughly residential rates) then PSE lowers the rates dramatically and sells it to their customers. The end result is customers in Point Roberts pay the same as we do and the same as customers in Bellevue even though their power costs almost 3 times what they pay.

The Utility Commission, in its infinite wisdom, has required utilities like PSE to take the good with the bad and has forbidden them from singling out big-time losers and charging them accordingly. That’s where Whidbey comes in to the fray.

Do we benefit or do we subsidize rates for other PSE customers? Not knowing for absolute sure, I’d bet we’re on the benefit side of the equation. Our customer density is low and with all our miles of wire that require boosters and other corrections, power here is rather costly compared to denser areas. (Besides, I have overheard on many occasions PSE people in the know whine about how much Whidbey eats up in company resources without producing much revenue, but don’t tell them I told you, OK?)

Knowing that, what do we do about it? I guess we could look into forming a PUD. What would it matter? Surely you jest, it matters a lot. Once people get elected and consultants are hired and lawyers get their collective teeth clenched in fits of righteous rage; it just ain’t gonna stop. What we have to do is nip this in the bud and vote no on the PUD proposition. If we don’t and this idea gets legs, at the very least we will end up paying for all the exploratory studies and have nothing to show for it.

If the no vote fails and it does get started, how will it get stopped? I’ll run for commissioner. Actually I’ll run for anti-commissioner, the one who will make sure the PUD fails at the least cost to you, the taxpayer.

Oh by the way, I cannot find in Washington law where it is allowed to have two competing PUDs in the same county. Having said that I would like to know whether or not we will have to steal Camano from SnoPUD at the same time we steal Whidbey from PSE. I figure it’ll be just as easy to take two as it is to take one, anyway.

Scott Smith

lives in Oak Harbor.

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