How to Send an Email to City Council
We request — if you’re optimistic about the feasibility of transitioning to a local not-for-profit public utility in place of for-profit PSE — that you send an email to City Council simply expressing the desirability of such a transition.
To: All seven City Council members: Council@BainbridgeWA.gov
Cc: City Manager Doug Schulze: DSchulze@BainbridgeWA.gov
If you’re willing, please copy us: info@Island-Power.org
Thank you for writing to City Council.
Where is the feasibility study now?
Sixteen volunteer citizens with utility-related experience (called the Municipalization Task Group) have drafted the City’s request for a proposal (RFP), have reviewed the responses and interviewed the two finalists. They have twice recommended a finalist to the City, and it was the lowest bidder.
The firm recommended by the citizen task group, D. Hittle, submitted a bid that was less than half the amount of the other finalist. The bid was low in large part because D. Hittle has done studies of this kind so often and it has much of the PSE data already at its disposal.
D. Hittle bid $99,000 for the full study, and a lower amount if the Council decides it doesn’t need answers to certain intricate questions.
$99,000 is less than $10 for each PSE residential and commercial customer on Bainbridge Island. By contrast, each of us PSE residential customers is paying more than $150 this year, on average, because of PSE’s 2016 rate increase.
Just to pay the 11% PSE rate increase that took effect this past January, the average residential customer on Bainbridge Island will pay PSE approximately $150 more this year than last year for the same amount of electricity (assuming a residential average of about 1,150 kilowatt hours per month). And that additional amount can be expected to continue to be part of our bills indefinitely into future years, whether or not next year’s expected additional rate increase is eventually approved by the State.
So, learning from an independent expert whether we have a feasible alternative to PSE is a pocketbook issue for all of us on Bainbridge, in addition to the other issues at stake.
What is the issue for the City Council?
Our City Council has been engaging in a public process about our electric power for more than a year, and have decided an independent utility expert, D. Hittle, to study the feasibility of local public power for Bainbridge Island.
The task group of citizen volunteers selected by the City who have convened to study this question have met with the finalists among the expert utility firms that bid on this study. That citizen task group has twice recommended the firm which has the most experience doing studies of this kind, and which has offered the lowest bid.
So there is a recommendation for a feasibility study, and for a particular independent expert firm (named D. Hittle), from the City’s citizen task group with utility-related knowledge.
Why are we requesting that you write?
The Council should hear from both sides of this debate: including the public citizen side, and not just the PSE side. So far, they’re hearing mostly from the PSE side.
PSE has spent a lot of money to get Bainbridge residents to make comments and write letters supporting the idea of continuing PSE’s monopoly franchise on Bainbridge. PSE has spent tens of thousands of dollars on full-color mailings, telephone polling, rented rooms for their presentations at Islandwood and the Art Museum, giveaways of door prizes like a $1,000 barbecue, and more.
PSE won’t tell us how much we Bainbridge customers pay per year for electricity in the aggregate, but we estimate that PSE stands to lose about $20 million per year if their for-profit utility is replaced by a not-for-profit local utility.
As a result, PSE is motivated to urge residents to oppose a study of cleaner, not-for-profit power, and the City Council is therefore receiving a disproportionate number of opposition emails as a result of PSE’s campaign.
By contrast, we haven’t until now asked the 1,200 islanders who signed a clean public power petition last year to follow up with an email asking for an impartial feasibility study. The Council is therefore getting a one-sided negative picture of our community’s preferences.
What has led to this decision?
For more than a year, most City Council members have been individually studying the feasibility of a local not-for-profit utility for Bainbridge. Some have attended public meetings that included representatives of Bonneville Power Administration and managers of not-for-profit utilities operated by several of the 62 Washington cities and counties that appreciate their own local public power utilities.
In recent months, some citizens have disagreed in their comments to Council, factually, whether such a change would be feasible, and whether the size of the opportunities outweighed the risks of change.
So, last November, the Council unanimously voted in favor of sending out a request for a proposal (RFP) for a feasibility study by an independent fact-finding expert. Under state law, if the City wanted to consider establishing a Bainbridge public utility, the City would need to ask Bainbridge voters to authorize it, and the City would be required to inform us on the cost of acquiring the electric infrastructure. So an expert feasibility study would inform both us and the Council.
Furthermore, the City has the duty under state law to review its existing long-term electric-power monopoly franchise agreement with PSE when it expires in a few years, so a study would give the City a timely advance start on gathering the facts for such a necessary review of our existing City oversight relationship with PSE.
To prepare the questions for Council’s requested RFP, the City publicly advertised a request for experienced and knowledgeable citizen volunteers to form a “Municipalization Task Group.” More than 20 Bainbridge residents with remarkable utility-related experience and professional resumes volunteered. Sixteen of them were chosen. They held a series of meetings and recommended precise terms for a detailed RFP, which they sent to Council.
The City Council refined the RFP and then voted this Spring to send it out. Several experienced firms responded, and the two finalists were interviewed in person by the citizen task group and the City Manager.
After an extensive review, the consensus of the volunteers on the citizen task group was to recommend the firm named D. Hittle, because it expressed neutrality and independence, and because it was the most experienced in doing feasibility studies of this kind pertaining to various local Washington communities and PSE.