Periodically we’ve posted letters to the editor on our News page. This page will showcase the most recent letters to the editor in favor of our Island Power proposals.
Act Locally on Electricity (December 9th 2016)
I have a wish for Bainbridge Island in 2017, which is we vote by year’s end to establish a public power utility. Why? The results of the 2016 election cycle hold grim prospects nationally for protecting our environment, including a climate change skeptic in president-elect Trump (“It’s a plot by China!”). Anticipating an emasculated EPA and a vengeful Congress, our best course of action is to act locally.
Our island has the opportunity to reject the expensive and polluting electricity provided by for-profit PSE and switch to renewable public power offered by the Bonneville Power Administration. Besides offering the most expensive power in the state and poor reliability, PSE sells us electricity generated 60% by fossil fuels, including a whopping 35% from coal. PSE’s power supply remains stuck in the last century, and the coal power they sell us is not competitive in today’s open market. The future for energy lies in renewables. This may be best demonstrated by the recent cost-motivated move by Microsoft—a large energy consumer—to negotiate a disengagement from PSE for purposes of buying renewable power directly.
Thankfully, our City Council has contracted a study by experts in the field to assess the potential for a public power utility on Bainbridge Island. The report expected this January will help islanders assess the viability of purchasing renewable power from BPA (97% carbon free). BPA already has set aside low-cost Tier 1 power in their allocation for communities such as ours, and the switch away from PSE would lessen the demand for coal power that PSE cannot sell to anyone else.
Let’s act locally in 2017 to establish public power as a community commitment to protect our environment. Such a move can also lower costs in the long term, improve reliability, and create good-paying local jobs, but most importantly we would take a step toward lessoning our impact to the climate.
Islanders Would Have a BIG Say in Local Power (November 19th 2016)
Friends of Island Power are local volunteers working to put a measure on a ballot that would give the City of Bainbridge Island the authority to establish an electric utility. A yes vote won’t establish an electric utility automatically. A yes vote would grant the City the right to move forward and would include opportunities for public input.
Public input is one big difference between public and private utilities. State laws regulate local municipal utilities through requirements for open public records, advance public notice, and public meetings. As a result, a public utility ends up being regulated by the local people it serves. And, meetings are held locally. (By contrast, the meetings of PSE’s regulator are held in Olympia.)
PSE’s regulator — the Washington Utility and Transportation Commission (UTC) — is a 3-person commission that regulates approximately 8,000 utilities and carriers. The UTC was created to oversee unchallenged monopolies because they are not held in check by normal market forces.
By comparison, a public utility doesn’t need to be regulated by the UTC as the locally affected members of the public are involved and provide oversight and direction thanks to legally mandated transparency.
If we ran our own public electric utility, we’d have a say in any number of programs we wanted to pursue, where we get our power from, and more. We’d be able to go to meetings locally. It would operate for our benefit, not for the benefit of foreign stockholders (as is the case with foreign-owned PSE).
Microsoft leaving PSE to buy greener power (Oct 28th 2016)
Microsoft wants greener power than PSE can supply. Earlier this month, Clearing Up, an energy industry publication, ran an article about how Microsoft is working on a PSE exit plan that would help the software giant meet its sustainability goals. The article says:
“Microsoft has increasingly focused on reducing its carbon emissions and wants to buy its own renewable energy.…PSE has also been working to decarbonize its portfolio….However, that doesn’t appear good enough for Microsoft.”
If Microsoft is willing to pay a premium to leave PSE, it most likely sees not only an environmental benefit of reducing its carbon footprint, but also, an economic benefit in the long run as well.
The fact that Microsoft wants to leave PSE to buy directly from renewable-energy developers adds extraordinary credibility to Island Power’s message about the value of Bainbridge Island leaving PSE for the same reason (among others).
I applaud Bainbridge City Council for their courage to consider the benefits of public power on Bainbridge Island by conducting a feasibility study.
NOTE: Island Power was given permission from the publisher of Clearing Up to quote portions of the article mentioned above. You can read the full article here: http://www.newsdata.com/otherwise/CU1769-10.html
Friends of Island Power
PSE’s WUTC report shows its power outages in Kitsap are the worst of any county it serves (Oct 14th 2016)
Puget Sound Energy’s poor reliability in Kitsap County is a major factor to consider as Bainbridge citizens study the feasibility of establishing a public power utility. PSE has not revealed its data about power outages on Bainbridge Island, despite many requests from Bainbridge ratepayers. But PSE’s required report to the state utility regulator shows that its electric service in Kitsap County as a whole is the most unreliable of any of the eight counties that it serves and it is getting worse. PSE’s March 2016 Service Quality and Electric Service Reliability Report shows that PSE’s customers in Kitsap suffered an average of over 5 hours of outages in 2013, over 10 hours in 2014, and nearly 30 hours in 2015. (You can download that report at www.island-power.org/faq/reliability.) Our family’s power on Bainbridge Island has been out for over 48 hours so far in 2016.
By contrast, nearby public power utilities like Seattle City Light, Port Angeles Electric, Peninsula Light (Gig Harbor) and Snohomish PUD are far more reliable. Snohomish PUD, which serves a rural, forested territory like Bainbridge, has less than half the number of outages and one fourth the average outage duration of those endured by PSE’s customers in Kitsap like us on Bainbridge.
Why would public power on Bainbridge be more reliable than from a private, for-profit utility like PSE? Because we’d have power crews based here on the island, ready to fix problems, instead of having to compete with the rest of Kitsap for crews based in Poulsbo during storms like we do now. Whatís more, we could choose to invest in long-term upgrades like smart grid technology and putting more electric wires underground, which would greatly improve power reliability.
Clearly, PSE’s increasing rates here (an 11 percent increase this year) are not delivering more reliable power in Kitsap county and on Bainbridge Island. It’s well past time for Bainbridge to join over 60 public power utilities that reliably deliver electric power to the majority of people in Washington State.
Friends of Island Power
Power study will inform islanders (Sept 27, 2016)
Why should Bainbridge wean itself off power from Puget Sound Energy?
How about this fact: After a leveraged buyout back in 2009, PSE is now owned by foreign investors whose investments were managed by Macquarie Capital, a private equity firm based in Australia. Their interest is not our interest. Their interest is in raking in the most money they can for their power.
When you think of Macquarie Capital and those foreign owners, think Bain Capital — not Bainbridge Island. It’s patently obvious from their surrogates’ letters to the Review that they’re spending a lot of money to protect that interest by maligning those on Bainbridge who want an alternative. But what they don’t say in those letters is revealing.
For example, did you know that at least 60 percent of PSE’s power comes from fossil fuels? Power from Bonneville Power Authority, on the other hand, is 97 percent carbon-free.
And did you know that more than half of power consumers in Washington state get their power from public nonprofit entities like the one Island Power is proposing? Those utilities include at least 15 cities and towns smaller than Bainbridge.
If those smaller municipalities can manage their own power systems, why couldn’t Bainbridge? Bainbridge has many capable people in the energy field. Why not put their expertise to work, create a few good jobs here, and let us all benefit from greener, cheaper power?
Hiring experienced power-system managers and line crew locally would give us the ultimate control over our power, take advantage of Bonneville’s low costs for public power utilities, and help us prepare for coming innovations in power such as community solar and the smart grid.
The study that the Bainbridge city council recently authorized will tell us whether this is the right direction for Bainbridge. If that study shows that it’s feasible for us to run our own power system like those many smaller municipalities, we need to answer just one question: How long do we want to remain in hock to the profit margins of foreign investors?
City council took bold step on utility proposal (Aug 3, 2016)
I want to congratulate the Bainbridge city council on their 5-2 vote to authorize a study of the feasibility of setting up a city-run electric utility.
There were many conflicting facts aired at the council meeting and in this newspaper. The authorized study will enable us all to examine a common set of data to determine if setting up a city-run electric utility is the right way to go.
It would have been easy for the council to delay or simply vote no as various voices advocated. Instead the council voted boldly to help us all get the facts. Some argued that the study’s $100k cost should be spent on actual problems the city faces.
As Erika Shriner commented at the meeting, our electricity system IS an actual problem. In fact, our energy use is related to the biggest challenge humanity has ever faced — the climate crisis that threatens all that we hold dear. The study will enable us to take a cautious step on the path of potentially getting off of PSE’s coal and gas-powered system and move onto the Bonneville Power Administration’s nearly 100 percent hydro-powered electricity. If we can pry loose from the financial interests of the Macquarie Group in Australia (which is a part owner of the coal plant in Montana), we may have the freedom to achieve an even more visionary energy future.
For me — I cannot bear to know that every time I turn on the lights, I am contributing to the devastation of the planet. Thank you Bainbridge city council.
City utility means access to emission-free energy (Aug 20, 2016)
Mr. Davis [July 29 edition of the Review] says if the island were to obtain electric power from Bonneville, we’d still get the same sources as we do now, namely, a mix of hydro, coal, nuclear and some wind/solar, since on the power grid we don’t get to filter electrons.
I agree, but that is not what the power supply debate is about. The proportions in the mix matter — a lot!
The debate is whether we should continue to pay for adding electrons to the grid sourced primarily from coal and natural gas (the PSE solution), or whether we should turn to predominantly clean energy (the BPA solution). One approach rewards and reaffirms continued reliance on fossil fuels; the other moves us toward a clean energy power grid.
With PSE, we agree to pay for its power mix, which is about
60 percent derived from coal and natural gas. Our consumption supports PSE’s current power supply strategy, which continues to rely on coal for the foreseeable future. Under a purchase agreement with Bonneville, we would shift the power mix strongly toward hydro
(84.5 percent) and nuclear (9.9 percent). Wind and biomass add another 1 percent. Virtually the only fossil fuel in its mix occurs when it goes into the “spot market” to purchase added power, some of which may be sourced to coal or natural gas. This accounts for perhaps 3 percent of its annual sales.
Access to emission-free and renewable energy is one very good reason for taking a clear-headed look at the city’s choice of power supplier.
Local Control Better for Power (June 3rd 2016)
Naysayers who would have the City Council scrimp on studying how we might operate a public electric utility are myopically uninformed and should not carry the day. Over 60 other Washington State communities (some smaller than ours) are already doing a fine job of it and those who would deny us the opportunity to investigate this intriguing path evidently don’t want facts to come to light, but would rather bully the Council into a penny-wise, pound-foolish stance.
The current multi-national corporation that has a monopoly on our electric service will certainly try their best to dissuade us from considering any alternative to a distressingly coal-driven utility, from which their Australian owners profit mightily (with rates only headed in one direction). While the Bonneville Power Authority is not perfect, it is a far more conscientious source of electricity (97% carbon-free) and reliably cheaper for the consumer.
Our take-over of the current power infrastructure is not as scary as some make it sound, since it will be paid for by revenue bonds slowly, through our bills, which will still be at least no more than they are now, probably a bit lower. And our electric dollars would support numerous good jobs very nearby, unlike presently.
As further climate disruption stares us in the face, local control of as many resources as possible is the smartest posture in an uncertain future. I believe we deserve to know if and how this particular concept will play out to the consumer’s—and our descendants’—advantage.
Thank you for your courageous support of this proposal.
Jaco B. ten Hove, Bainbridge Island
Steve Johnson: Printed by the Bainbridge Review 5/27/2016:
To the editor:
In your recent opinion piece the Review argued against the city spending money on a feasibility study now to create a public power electric utility on Bainbridge.
Last October, 1,200 island citizens submitted petitions to the city asking that creation of a community owned utility be put on the ballot. In the face of this significant interest in establishing such a utility, not to do a fact based feasibility study now would be irresponsible.
PSE’s December 2015 rate increase was 11 percent, and they have already filed for another rate increase this year. That is more than $2,000,000 per year in additional cost to island ratepayers.
Wouldn’t it be smart to spend one twentieth of this money, $100,000, to see if the business case for having a community owned, carbon free (BPA power is 97 percent carbon-free) and board-managed utility make sense?
Jefferson PUD bought out PSE two years ago, and their rates are now 5 percent less than PSE leaving $1 million in ratepayer’s pockets, and delivering 97% carbon-free power.
PSE and its supporters do not want a study because a competent study is bound to show very large economic, environmental and reliability benefits from having a community owned utility, and would highlight the risks of staying with a power company that is foreign owned and faced with huge increased costs and carbon tax risks. They would far rather do as the Review recommends and have a vote on this issue without benefit of the facts.
-Steve Johnson, Bainbridge Island
Barry Peters: Printed by the Bainbridge Review 5/13/2016:
One thing I love about Bainbridge is the “can do” attitude of so many islanders.
So it’s disappointing to read last week’s editorial shying away from a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and expressing “slow down.” It seemed to say “we cannot do”. It dredged up a 7-year old history of a formerly-pricy city water utility, but failed to mention that we took action and made its prices among the lowest in the region.
In so many other ways, it’s no surprise that our community has a “can do” confidence. Compared to any other community I know, we have a higher average level of education and a higher percentage of us engaged in professional employment and creative work. Thousands of us take the ferry to extraordinary professional and leadership roles every day.
When the City recently asked citizens to step forward for a task force to examine public power opportunities, more than 20 local residents with extraordinary resumes and utility-related experience volunteered.
Last week’s editorial acknowledged some of the potential advantages of substituting not-for-profit Bainbridge community power in place of for-profit PSE power, yet it wimped out. It failed to voice the “can do” spirit that we’ve embraced in so many ways – the scale and scope of the annual Rotary Auctions, the remaking of a walkable prospering Winslow Way, the school district goals to be tops in the state, the parks goals to add and maintain open space, and more.
What are the opportunities we’d miss by yawning and assuming “cannot do”?
For those of us who care about an economically prosperous community, a local public utility will normally return to the local economy about 40% what its customers pay each year for electricity. Here, that could be $10 million per year for our local economy. By contrast, PSE returns a tiny percentage to the community and sends vastly more to its Bellevue headquarters and operations, the outside contractors at Potelco and its foreign for-profit investors.
For all of us who care about reliability, a local utility would substitute our local control over policies to increase reliability, instead of PSE’s excuses for not undergrounding more of the wires and not achieving the reliability of most of our state’s 62 public utilities.
For the vast majority of us who care about climate change, a local utility powered by Bonneville’s 97% fossil-fuel-free power would replace PSE’s mostly fossil-fuel power, including the 35% of our PSE power from its massively polluting coal plant.
This is a “can do” community. Let’s keep moving forward on this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
-Barry Peters, Bainbridge Island
Tom Goodlin and Vicki Johnson both had letters in the Islander, and Tom had his published in the The Review as well.
Links to PDFs of letters: