Challengers want to take PUD in different directions

EVERETT — Two challengers are hoping to unseat Snohomish County Public Utility District Commissioner Dave Aldrich, who is running for a third six-year term.

The top two finishers in Tuesday’s primary election will advance to the general election in November.

The challengers — Matt Hartman and Bruce King — want to take the PUD in different directions.

Hartman says the district, which provides service in the county and Camano Island, should adopt alternative energy technology, such as solar, at a faster rate than it does now. King also says the district should stick to proven alternative energy sources, such as solar, rather than investing in things such as tidal power, which generates power from tidal currents.

Both criticized a hydro project near Index as poor use of money.

Aldrich says the PUD’s Board of Commissioners has proven it can be visionary — by pursuing things such as tidal power — while keeping rates down and reserves high.

The stakes are high, he said. “It’s really a referendum on the PUD.”

If voters “think its headed in the right direction, they should return me to office,” the Everett resident said.

He has worked to promote energy conservation and renewable energy since he was first elected in 2002, he said.

The PUD has to balance reliability and affordability in providing power and water to its customers, Aldrich, 67, said. “There’s an inherent tension between the two.”

Rates adjusted for inflation have come down since early last decade, he said.

And the system is more reliable now than it was in the 1990s based on the ratio of customer outages to the total number of customers. That ratio, though, has risen slightly in the past decade.

Now retired, Aldrich worked as a public policy analyst for the PUD in the 1990s.

“I want to keep pushing the envelope to do everything we can on behalf of the customer,” Aldrich said.

Hartman, 57, is a Granite Falls City Councilman, a position he’s held since 2000. He works in broadcast advertising. If elected to the PUD board, he will resign from the council, he said.

“I realize how government works, and I realize you are responsible to your constituents,” he said.

Hartman praised the PUD’s efforts to improve energy conservation and pursue renewable energy sources. But more can be done, he said. “We need to show the rest of the world that moving into alternative fuel is the way to go.”

Hartman wants to boost solar energy use in Snohomish County by offering low-interest loans to homeowners who go solar.

The PUD has offered low-interest loans, but it needs to go lower, say 1 percent, he said. “If you say to a homeowner, ‘Your bill is going to be less than it is now, would you do it?’ They’re going to say yes.”

Tie the loan to the property, so that a homeowner can sell a house without having to pay off the loan in full, he said.

Hartman is against the PUD’s plan to build a hydropower project at Sunset Falls on the Skykomish River, a project estimated to cost at least $120 million.

The PUD should use that money to finance loans for solar installations instead, he said.

King also opposes the Sunset Falls plan.

“We shouldn’t involve the PUD in projects that have potential cost overruns or could get into a fight over a limited resource,” such as rivers, he said.

King, 50, left Microsoft in the 1990s to start his own business. Today, he runs a small entertainment business and a farm — pigs, alfalfa and corn — near Arlington. He expanded his farm in May 2013.

“My power’s gone off 40 times since then,” King said. “My power sucks.”

He has spent more than $20,000 on his campaign, which includes mailers and automated calls. He has largely self-financed his campaign, according to public campaign finance records. Hartman has spent less than $1,000 so far, while Aldrich said he won’t spend much more than the cost of his filing fee.

King promises voters that he will bring an outside skepticism to the PUD board, which he says is too quick to throw money at unproven technology.

Aldrich defended the PUD’s investment in the tidal power project, which was largely paid for with $13 million in grants funded by federal tax dollars.

“If we get this deployed, it will be a remarkable achievement,” he said.

Dan Catchpole: 425-339-3454; dcatchpole@heraldnet.com; Twitter: @dcatchpole.

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