EVERETT — Incumbent Tanya Olson wants to extend her service on the commission of the Snohomish County Public Utility District.
Challengers Jordan Sears and Ken Maertens hope to get their own shot at policymaking for the state’s second-largest publicly owned utility.
The trio are competing in the Aug. 2 primary with the top two finishers advancing to the November general election.
At stake is a six-year term on the Board of Commissioners representing District 3, which spans an area bounded by I-5 on the west and county borders on the south and east. It takes in parts of Everett and Lake Stevens, as well as cities of Snohomish, Monroe, Sultan, Gold Bar and Index.
The three-person commission sets rates for 360,000 electric and 23,000 water customer and crafts policies for the district, with 1,025 employees and a $685 million annual budget. Commissioners earn $2,567 a month.
Only District 3’s roughly 174,000 registered voters can cast ballots in the primary. All registered voters in the SnoPUD service area get to vote in this race in November.
Olson, 75, of Everett, is seeking a fourth term. She has received backing from the Master Builders Association of King and Snohomish counties, as well as IBEW 77, whose membership includes district workers. She said her 40 years of experience with the district — 22 as an employee who rose to assistant general manager and 18 as commissioner — give her a greater understanding of issues the board tackles.
And she still likes the job.
“I believe I have the credentials and I have the passion,” she said. “I think I have more to give.”
In her tenure, the PUD has increased its use of renewable sources of energy. Today its fuel mix, on average, is made up of more than 95% carbon-free energy, most of which comes from hydropower. The district is ramping up support for electrification of transportation, making two fast electric vehicle chargers available for use by the public this month. They’re installed in front of the PUD offices in Everett.
This year’s residential rate increase was the first in five years.
Sears, 23, a Gold Bar City Council member, works for a financial institution. He’s backed by the Washington Conservation Voters and several elected Democrats, including Snohomish County Councilmember Megan Dunn, state Rep. Brandy Donaghy, and county Treasurer Brian Sullivan.
A priority, he said, is elevating the commission’s profile by getting commissioners more engaged in the community by regularly updating civic leaders, attending government meetings and even talking to high school classes.
“I respect all she’s done,” Sears said of Olson’s tenure. “It’s been 18 years. People are ready for a change.”
Maertens, a Monroe resident and a mechanical engineer, could not be reached for an interview. On his website, he wrote: “The future looks to be full of challenges that will have technical solutions. I am stepping forward to ask for a chance to use what I have learned over my career to help meet those challenges.”
Two matters on which candidates differ in their approach are expanding the commission to five members and breaching dams on the lower Snake River.
The dams are an issue because the PUD acquires 80% to 85% of its power from the Bonneville Power Administration, of which roughly 10% comes from the BPA-operated dams, according to district officials. It is a reliable source of power, especially when demand surges in situations like the extreme heat wave in June 2021.
Recent studies show the dams can be removed and the power they generate replaced. But it will take years and tens of billions of dollars, according to the reports. The Board of Commissioners has taken a neutral stance on removing them.
Olson said because the board acted, she’s “restricted” from saying anything other than what the board decided.
“My position,” she said, “is I want to know that it means to Snohomish PUD and to our customers. I want to see the numbers. I want to see the breakdown.”
Sears said the dams should be breached to support restoration of salmon runs.
“But we must be assured of our ability to replace that energy and we must make sure those workers still have jobs if they are breached,” he said.
Maertens told The Daily Herald editorial board talk of the dams’ removal shouldn’t move ahead until projects required to replace the their energy are up and running.
Enlarging the commission will lead to greater diversity of members and ideas, and better representation, Sears said.
Olson said she isn’t opposed to the idea. More commissioners means more staff and more costs.
“I want to get the information,” she said. “I’m a dollar and cents kind of gal.”
Maertens told the editorial board the cost would be appropriate, if it led to better decisions.
Ballots for the Aug. 2 primary must be turned in by 8 p.m. Tuesday. They can be placed in a designated drop box or returned by mail without a stamp.
Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623;
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