PORT ANGELES — Two Clallam County Public Utility District commissioner candidates differed Tuesday at a general election forum on the utility’s expulsion from a regional public power council that was said to have involved Commissioner Jim Waddell.
Patti Morris of Port Angeles and Rick Paschall of Sequim are vying for the six-year position held by the late Hugh Haffner, who had resigned and was replaced by appointee Dave Anderson, who is not running for the seat.
Morris, a management consultant and former longtime employee of Tucson (Ariz.) Electric Power Company, and Paschall, a retired manager of operations at Pacific Northwest Generating Cooperative in Portland, Ore., appeared at an hour-long virtual presentation sponsored by the Port Angeles Business Association.
Ballots for the Nov. 3 general election will be mailed in 49 days on Oct. 14.
The public utility district has 15,000 voters covering Clallam County excluding Port Angeles, which has its own electric utility.
The Public Power Council (PPC) removed the PUD from its association earlier this year after the organization’s chairwoman and executive director alleged Waddell leaked privileged information about the PPC’s activities that led to protests.
Waddell, an outspoken critic of the Bonneville Power Administration and a founder of DamSense, a group that favors removal of the four BPA-operated Lower Snake River dams, drew an unusual public rebuke from PUD General Manager Doug Nass over the expulsion.
Waddell said he had nothing to do with organizing the protest.
The PPC, which negotiates electric rates with Bonneville Power Administration for the region’s utilities, including the Clallam PUD, has refunded the PUD $22,600 in annual membership fees for 2020.
“That really hampers Clallam County,” Paschall said.
He said the PUD’s two biggest challenges were related to the expulsion.
“Being thrown out of that organization means that no longer does Clallam County have input, no longer are we privy to the discussions that are going on, and I find this one of the biggest issues that needs to be resolved.
“The second issue I would point out would be the new Bonneville contracts, which will start in 2028,” Paschall said.
“Discussions have already begun, and we are not at the table, and I view that as a significant problem.”
Morris, saying she disagreed with Paschall, was confident the PUD could continue operating effectively without being a PPC member.
“I am hoping that we can pick up those negotiations and not have to be reliant on one association to make sure that we can secure the right contracts for the PUD,” she said.
“There are a number of avenues that I am told from experience that you can go in negotiation of the BPA contract. It’s been a number of years since I’ve done those, but I’ve done those energy-type contracts.
“I understand the PPC is important, but I certainly hope we are not relying on one association that’s a make-or-break for our community.”
Morris and Paschall also had different reasons and levels of support for the Lower Snake River dams.
It has been proposed that the dams be removed to help salmon and potentially increase the food source for Southern Resident orcas.
“Primarily, it comes down to a rate issue,” Paschall said.
Citing an environmental impact statement, he said taking out the dams to restore Columbia River salmon would lead to an 8 percent to 10 percent electric rate increase.
Substituting thermal generation, for example, to replace the hydroelectric power “probably isn’t going to fly in today’s world,” Paschall said.
He said the BPA, a federal agency, spent more than $788 million on fish and wildlife programs in 2019 as part of efforts to restore salmon, asserting those efforts have been unsuccessful.
“I still am convinced that technology will come through, that we will be able to find ways to keep the dams and keep the salmon,” Paschall said.
Morris, who was undecided before the Aug. 4 primary, said the EIS was a turning point — for now.
“There would have to be a re-investigation of programs to look at removing those dams, but at this moment, I have to take the position that those dams are going to stay with the findings that have been done,” she said.
Morris said she supports reviving the salmon industry.
“We need to ensure regulatory requirements are followed,” she said, adding she was involved in the removal of the Elwha River dams and has been “a long-time environmental person.”
Morris said the PUD’s role in providing broadband service has not been well defined.
She said she has done permitting for CenturyLink and Wave.
“We need to define what it is to serve broadband out West,” Morris said of the county’s West End.
Paschall was not aware the PUD had a role in providing the service, “then the pandemic hit, and it felt like not only my role but everyone else’s role got turned on its head,” he said.
“I now believe that everyone’s household should have access to broadband.
“If that is something that the customers in Clallam County believe that the PUD should embrace, I am now fully on board with doing something like that.”
Paschall said his strong background in rural electric issues has left him well-prepared to be a PUD commissioner from Day 1, while Morris touted her wide array of electric utility jobs at Tuscon Electric and her strong ties to the community.
Morris and Paschall both said they would strive to keep rates low.
Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 55650, or at [email protected].