Island Power

Local Power is Better Power.

Bainbridge Island citizens have the opportunity to own and control our own nonprofit electric utility, as do more than 60 other Washington communities (scroll down to see WA). Consumer owned utilities, from the City of Blaine to Seattle City Light, provide lower cost, cleaner and more reliable power than Puget Sound Energy (PSE).

In 2008 our neighbors in Jefferson County (Port Townsend) voted to give electric authority to their public utility district, Jefferson PUD and buy out PSE.  Today they have their own 97% carbon-free, locally controlled, nonprofit power system.

If Jefferson County can control its own power system so can Bainbridge.

What’s wrong with leaving our power system the way it is?
It’s easy to flip on your light, turn up the heat and not think about where the power is coming from to ignite those actions – if it works, what’s the problem? But if you’ve wondered how to raise your voice in the climate change conversation, here’s one answer: Support your locally grown, locally owned utility. Doing so gives us the freedom to purchase energy from only renewable, carbon-free sources. Currently, Bainbridge power is monopolized by PSE, which is owned by foreign investors assembled by a private equity firm based in Sidney, Australia. We have no choice but to use the power they provide, the majority of which comes from fossil fuels, with 35% of the power that serves our homes and businesses on Bainbridge Island coming from coal. PSE is a part-owner of the Colstrip Montana coal-fired plant, which is one of the top ten CO2 polluters in the United States.

Two of PSE’s four Colstrip coal units are expected to be shut down by 2022, and even PSE estimates that its share of the shutdown and related costs for those two smaller units will be in the range of $67 million to nearly $100 million. We expect that PSE cost will be passed on to its ratepayers like Bainbridge homes and businesses.

What’s better about a locally grown, locally owned utility?

  • Greener Power
  • Local Economy
  • Local Control

Where would Bainbridge Island Electric get its power?
The Bonneville Power Administration (BPA), which operates the federal hydro system in the Northwest and is subject to the 1980 Northwest Power Act.  This law requires that “BPA offer contracts for electric service to [any] public body or cooperative utility whenever requested.”  Federal law also provides that BPA must arrange for delivery of the power.

Why now?

  • The Bonneville Power Administration (BPA) has set aside a small amount of low cost tier one power (for example, Grand Coulee and the other federal dams) for new nonprofit utilities.  Of the 190+ megawatts of power currently available Bainbridge would need about 40 megawatts.
  •  Climate change isn’t going to fix itself. This initiative is a meaningful way for the entire island to cut carbon emissions.

Could Island Energy provide virtually carbon free power?
Yes.  BPA power plants are all non-carbon emitting.  The island could also work with its citizens to promote even more development of renewable, solar and energy efficiency energy resources on the island. Here is the 2015 resource mix for BPA power:

BPA resource mix

Reported electric energy mix for 2015 from Bonneville Power Administration.

How will we create our own utility? What’s involved?
There are three steps in creating our own utility:

  1. Vote to give the city the authority to establish an electric utility.
  2. Buyout PSE’s electrical infrastructure on the island
  3. Transfer electricity service from PSE to the Island Energy utility.

Will the new utility be as reliable as PSE?
Yes. In fact, Island Energy will be more reliable than PSE, as our line crews and other utility employees will be based on, and in most cases live on, the island. PSE has only employee on the island, and no line or maintance crews. Its contract crews (it does not have its own line crews but contracts with the Potelco Corporation) come from off-island and in case of outages often have higher priorities elsewhere.  The island could also make a commitment to undergrounding its lines over the long term.

How will a locally grown and owned utility impact island jobs?
Jefferson PUD hired more than 30 new personnel, at wages that support families, where PSE had previously had two employees in the county. We anticipate a similar level of local employment on Bainbridge.

Who Owns PSE?
In 2008 PSE was sold to foreign investors, in a deal structured by the Macquarie private equity firm of Sidney, Australia.  Because PSE is no longer a publicly-traded company on US stock exchanges it is not subject to many of the disclosure rules and stockholder protections enforced by the Securities and Exchange Commission.  PSE’s corporate board meetings in Bellevue and meetings of owners overseas are private. By contrast, meetings of the policy makers of a Bainbridge public utility would be open, and the documents describing the utility’s finances and business would be public.

Who is Island Power?
We are ordinary citizens, your neighbors, interested in creating our own nonprofit electric utility for the people of Bainbridge Island. Meet our steering committee. We support reliable, local, renewable energy and democratic control of our energy system.

Oh, and this website is CARBON NEUTRAL :-)