Are Public Utilities Right for Thurston County

Are Public Utilities Right for Thurston County

Weighing in on a political issue as you stand outside Wal-Mart shopping center sometimes becomes an exercise in guess work.  The case of putting Public Utilities for Electricity on November’s ballot is just such an exercise.  Thinking about a decision to sign or not sign on this ballot a few hours later prompted me to do a little research on the matter.  My findings brought me no closer to a final decision, but I thought it best to share the pros and cons here in hopes that knowledge leads to better judgment. 

Pro Public Utilities (info taken from Thurston Public Power Initiative website)

Point:  owned and run by local municipalities as a non-profit entity and overseen by community elected officials rather than for-profit corporation

            Current Fact:  Puget Sound Energy is owned by an Australian based company for profit

            PSE rates and services are regulated currently by the Washington Utilities and Transportation Committee in Olympia

Point:  rates will eventually decrease with public utilities

            Current Fact:  Thurston County residents pay the highest rates in Washington County

Point:  Money brought in from payments will go to utility services and community projects rather than to overseas entities

            Current Fact:  Approximately $ 16.7 million in profits were sent back to PSE’s corporate office in Australia last year

Point:  More jobs will be created in Thurston County

            Current Fact:  Much of the employment for PSE is contracted from outside the county. There is a business office in Olympia for customer service with 90 people employed for maintenance and infrastructure design and planning

Point:  Thurston residents would receive better service and faster response time due to having more money to put back into service and planning as well as having a local workforce to respond to emergencies       

            Current Fact:  A majority of customers in the PSE district were without power during this winter’s storm for more than three days while 90-95% of customers in surrounding counties run by PUD’s had power restored within 24 hours.

Con Public Utilities (Info taken from Protect Thurston Power website)

Point:  The local government cannot afford to take over utilities at this time

            Fact:  the legislation would allow the purchase of tax-free bonds as the capital to buy out PSE utilities or build infrastructure.  These bonds would potentially be paid back from utility revenue over time; however, it could mean the need to levy higher property taxes in order to cover the bond debt.  Currently, public water utilities in Olympia have the right to levy taxes from residents whether they are actually part of the public utility district or not.

Point:  The short-term costs to the electric consumer would go up. 

            Fact:  Jefferson County has had to increase their budget for purchasing and building utility infrastructure from an expected $47 million to an estimated $100 million.  This will have to be paid for out of utility costs when it begins next year.

Point:  Local municipalities do not have the experience needed to manage an electric utility

            Fact:  a committee will need to be established to oversee the utility operations, and experienced management will have to be procured.  Some will have to come directly from current PSE employees

Whatever you decide in this debate, you should note that the issue boils down to money and management.  Which entity do you trust most with your money and service needs, a private organization or elected government?

Cari Schwisow Headshot
Phone: 360-878-5401
Dated: June 28th 2012
Views: 1,677
About Cari: I am pleased to be with RE/MAX Northwest, a highly respected and innovative real estate firm in Olym...

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