Thurston PUD considers public power

Tue, 01/10/2012 - 5:00pm

Apparently, the Thurston County PUD Commissioners are considering doing a study of the feasibility of public power in our area. (As I understand it, in the most basic terms, this would involve buying out Puget Sound Energy's facilities in our area, and would offer two principle possible benefits - more local control, and reduced costs for consumers (mostly because PUDs have priority rights to the cheaper power produced by Bonneville's publicly constructed dams.) At this point, PSE's average power cost is about 6.5 cents, vs. 3.2 cents for BPA, and the Washington State PUD Association did a study concluding that such shifts would save the newly created PUD's customers "up to 20%" on their electric bills. (Unfortunately, this second benefit wouldn't mean that there was any more cheap renewable power in the grid - it would just mean that we got a somewhat bigger share of the pie, and that the customers of private utilities got a somewhat smaller share.) Apparently, several other PUDs in PSE's service area are considering similar moves.

Emmett O'Connell posted about this issue when it was debated by the candidates for Commissioner in the 2008 PUD election, and included video of their discussion, but you probably weren't glued to the screen following that...

Currently, the Thurston PUD only deals with supplying water to about 4,000 connections (although many other PUDs around the state are electric utilities, and a few are starting to provide some public internet access) so this would transform the utility.

I got a forwarded email about this, saying:

The Commissioners are meeting Tuesday night at 5:00 PM to discuss and vote on whether the PUD will fund a feasibility study for Public power in Thurston County.  This is an important step in deciding whether the PUD should provide electric service to the citizens of Thurston County, with the potential for substantial reduction in rates and the advantages of local control.
We need to have as many people attend as possible to show community support for such a move.  Please contact as many people as you can encourage them to attend the January 10th meeting to support the feasibility study.  It starts at 5:00 PM, but people can arrive later if they wish ( up to 7:00 PM).
The address for the PUD is:
921 Lakeridge Way SW,  off of Evergreen Parkway in West Olympia, near the Red Lion.
We need to show the commissioners that the community wants this to happen.

You can't tell much of anything about what's going to be discussed from the PUD Commissioner's lamentably sketchy agenda. However, Item 6 on their 2011 Goals and Priorities list is "Consider contracting for a preliminary Feasibility Study of potential new lines of business within current legislative constraints," and the agenda includes an email from PSE's Director for State Government Affairs and an hour for a Guest - PSE's Government and Communications Manager for Thurston/Lewis - so I think this is actually happening.

You can email the Commissioners, if you'd like to express your support for exploring this idea (or your lack of it) and can't attend the meeting:

Commissioner Paul Pickett can be contacted at;Commissioner Chris Stearns can be contacted at; Commissioner Alan Corwin can be contacted at