I generally avoid publicly taking sides in my colleagues’ re-election campaigns. Who wins or loses is a matter for PUD customers. Besides, I would have to work with whomever sits on the board, incumbent or successful challenger.
When I penned my response to a Herald letter, my wife suggested upon reading it in the paper that I appeared to be supporting Commissioner Vaughn. While that was not my intention, I understand how one would could make that interpretation. After all, I did mention her name on several occasions, but only because of the writer’s direct accusations against her.
The writer chose to make the Sunset Falls project decision a referendum on the PUD race, alleging that Ms. Vaughn was an affirmative vote. As I stated in my reply, the decision has yet to come before the board, so it is at least premature to cast judgments. Utility staff continues to investigate the feasibility of the project, both economically and environmentally. Only after it concludes its work will it present the commissioners with a recommendation for or against. Then, and only then, will the board decide.
In addition to disparaging Ms. Vaughn for lacking the appropriate “skill sets” to do her job—which is odd since she was first elected in 1994 and been re-elected for two additional terms, suggesting that the voters have disagreed with that assessment—the letter writer included erroneous claims about the Sunset Falls project itself, that it was hugely expensive and would drain the river to a trickle. I felt compelled to set the record straight.
Of course, I had no pretense that my reply to the Herald would be the final word until next month’s election. So I was not surprised to read a rebuttal of sorts in this morning’s edition.
Mr. Aldrich tried to hide his involvement in the upcoming election by taking a broad swipe at how Mr. Teegarden might vote on one of the current projects being considered by the PUD.
Well, there was no swipe and nothing broad about it. I had written that Mr. Teegarden opposes the Sunset Falls project. What was my evidence? The Herald:
The PUD has been studying building a micro-dam at Sunset Falls on the Skykomish River. Teegarden said he’s strongly opposed to the idea.
The recent writer, a former PUD employee, accuses the board of spending dollars on projects with “dubious benefit to the average customer.” He was following up on his previous letter to the Herald, in which he excoriated the utility for exploring geothermal and tidal power. Both ongoing projects fall under the PUD board’s stated energy policy, which is to maximize cost-effective conservation and pursue only renewable resources, preferably those in our own service territory so as to minimize transmission challenges and retain dollars within the local economy.
Preliminary data from a potential geothermal site suggested that we explore further. Unfortunately, the utility ultimately and unexpectedly encountered impermeable rock strata forcing the PUD to cease operations. Utility staff are now looking elsewhere, because geothermal is a firm resource emitting no carbons.
With federal grant money the PUD is indeed pioneering the investigation of tidal power on the West Coast. Tidal power holds much promise, given its predictability and sustainability. Moreover, Puget Sound lies adjacent to and within the utility’s service territory. It makes sense to explore its vast potential for PUD customers. Yet, even a minimal pilot project faces significant challenges that have delayed the deployment of two experimental underwater turbines and added costs.
And speaking of costs, the letter writer failed to note that the PUD is funding these explorations from the aforementioned grants and the utility’s resource reinvestment reserve, dollars acquired through the sale of the Centralia coal plant several years ago. Neither strategy imposes additional rate pressure.
But it’s not easy being green. Developing new renewable resources comes with risks, most of which relate to pushing the envelop beyond the status quo. Fortunately, the PUD has prudently set aside dollars to execute the board’s strategy while pursuing available grant money.
Nevertheless, PUD customers may prefer a different resource strategy. Mr. Teegarden, for example, would evidently nix small-hydro projects in favor of more solar power. Having talked with him in the past, I believe he would continue to support the PUD’s very successful conservation programs.
So, whomever the voters elect next month, I don’t expect to see coal or gas plants in our future, which is a good thing.