PORT ANGELES — Clallam County Public Utility District commissioner candidates have differing views on the electric supplier for most of the county, with one candidate more critical than the other of the Bonneville Power Administration, a federal agency.
A general election forum Tuesday featured Ted Simpson, a longtime incumbent on the Clallam County Public Utility (PUD) commission, and his challenger, Jim Waddell.
Ballots for the Nov. 6 general election will be mailed to voters on Oct. 17, three weeks from Wednesday.
The two PUD candidates at the forum hosted by the Port Angeles Business Association focused in large part on Bonneville Power Administration (BPA), although the two disagreed on such topics as carbon tax Initiative 1631, which would charge polluters to emit greenhouse gases, including carbon dioxide.
The commissioner position has a six-year term of office.
The utility supplies power to all of Clallam County except the city of Port Angeles, which has its own utility.
The election is countywide except for Port Angeles.
The BPA has increased its cost of power sales to the PUD that have been passed on to utility customers annually for more than a decade.
The PUD has 26,500 electric utility customers in unincorporated Clallam County and 31,500 meters.
The 2018 budget includes an average electric rate increase of 4.8 percent that was imposed April 1, averaging about $71 annually for the average residential ratepayer.
“The question I have is, what are we doing to compel the BPA to reduce power rates,” Waddell said at the Port Angeles Business Association breakfast meeting.
“I didn’t see much, so that’s why I decided to run for commissioner,” said Waddell, a retired U.S. Army Corps of Engineers civil engineer, suggesting the PUD focus more on renewable power.
“What I wanted to do is work with other PUD commissioners to bring our power rates back under control,” he said.
“The cost we are paying for power continues going up, while on the open market it continues going down,” he said, adding that utilities are paying for BPA debt.
“We may think our power is cheap today, but what happens when that debt gets called?”
One percent of the electric rate increase for 2018 was due to court-mandated BPA spills over the Snake River dams that subtracted $40 million of hydropower revenue from the agency in 2018, PUD General Manager Doug Nass said Friday.
Simpson, a 33-year incumbent and owner of Port Angeles Electric Inc., said BPA has “been on the edge” financially ever since he started his business in 1984, when financial problems surrounding the Washington Public Power Supply System got him interested in issues surrounding public electric power.
“I don’t want to defend Bonneville,” the Port Angeles native said.
“They’re not always very easy to work with, but they do an awful lot for us, not just provide power.
“When you turn the light on, they make sure there’s enough electricity for the light to come on.”
Of the power supplied by the BPA, 88 percent is hydropower, about 10 percent to 11 percent is nuclear, and about 1 percent is derived from wind and solar sources.
The BPA supplies power to PUDs across the state of Washington.
Asked how much impact the Clallam PUD can have on BPA rates, “nothing is easy,” Waddell said.
“These are opportunities dressed in work clothes, is all this is.
“Working with other PUDs, that’s where we need to exert leadership, with other PUDs and commissioners [to] put pressure on Bonneville.”
Simpson agreed that “collectively,” PUDs can have an impact but said it is unreasonable to anticipate that there won’t be increases.
“It’s an aging system and needs maintenance,” he said.
The candidates differed on what one questioner asked on the pros and cons of wind and solar power and how they affect the PUD.
Simpson called those sources of energy “intermittent,” noting the wind does not always blow and solar does not gather energy at night.
“To date, we don’t have efficient, inexpensive storage batteries we can store that stuff with,” he said.
“We’ve come a long ways with that, but we’re not there yet.”
Waddell agreed with the sporadic nature of alternative energy, “but so is hydropower,” he said.
“Rivers don’t flow the same all year ‘round.
“This is not wind country, but it is solar country.”
Waddell added that wind power “is actually competitive with hydropower, not all of it, but some of it.”
Initiative 1631 would impose the first carbon tax in the U.S. and the first imposed by a ballot referendum.
The tax “is worth looking at really hard,” Waddell said.
“We’ve got a good opportunity here to accomplish the same intent of that bill by balancing renewable with hydro,” he added.
Simpson said he opposes the 38-page measure (https://tinyurl.com/PDN-Initiative1631) calling it “very, very confusing” and difficult to read as well as understand.
“The second half of it is a bunch of social engineering about transferring those funds to low-income, disadvantaged, tribes, and all of that stuff is specified in the initiative,” Simpson said.
A portion of revenues created by the tax would reduce the impact of the measure on low-income energy users and, through consultation with tribes and community-based nonprofits, enroll people with lower incomes in the assistance program.
Tribes also would be consulted on initiative-related decisions that affect tribal members.
PUD commissioners pass an annual electric budget that is $67 million for 2018 that was balanced with $2.6 million of reserves.
PUD commissioners receive maximum annual monetary compensation of $48,724 in salary and per-diem payments, as well as insurance for themselves and their families and 75 cents a mile for official business.
Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 55650, or at [email protected] peninsuladailynews.com.