EVERETT — Veteran Commissioner Kathleen Vaughn is seeking a fifth six-year term on the Snohomish County Public Utility District Commission. Vaughn has served as commissioner of District 2, which encompasses southwest Snohomish County, including Lynnwood and Edmonds, since 1995.
Four candidates have stepped up to challenge her in the primary election, all of whom express concern over recent PUD projects and spending. High on the list was the controversial Sunset Falls hydroelectric project that was abandoned in April.
The Snohomish County PUD — the second largest publicly owned utility in the state — is overseen by three nonpartisan commissioners. The commission sets utility rates, directs policy and hires a general manager.
The PUD serves more than 348,000 electric customers in the county and on Camano Island. It also provides water to more than 20,000 customers through supplies purchased from the city of Everett. Hydropower makes up about 87 percent of the county’s power supply, most of which comes from the Bonneville Power Administration.
Vaughn has been in office longer than any PUD commissioner in the past 50 years. Vaughn said she’s “promoted reasoned and balanced fiscal leadership maintaining solid financial positions,” and been a “strong voice for low-income, disabled and senior discount programs.”
“With our communities embracing energy conservation, the utility has been able to avoid the unneeded development of new resources like the Sunset Falls water project, saving the ratepayers money,” she said.
She supports smart grid technologies that reduce power outage times, produce new products and services and give customers more control of their electricity usage, Vaughn said
David Chan, a business consultant, said first and foremost, “the PUD is a business — in need of better oversight.” If elected, his aim is “clean house,” he said. “I am very disturbed by the … mismanagement of projects in the PUD, resulting in millions of dollars wasted.” He cited Sunset Falls.
“I help organizations achieve higher efficiency and greater profit,” Chan said. “I have been a responsible Snohomish County commissioner for Fire District 1 for the past 12 years with records of long-term planning and good control of costs.
“Utility bills keep increasing,” Chan said. “A commissioner’s main job is to provide a vision and hold management accountable.”
Kaili Chickering, a neurodegenerative research technician, said she’s concerned about “wasteful spending by the current commissioners.”
The PUD must support “local businesses, old and new,” she said. “And that requires planning for the county’s expected economic and population growth.”
She would promote high-speed internet options for better service and more competitive rates, particularly in rural areas. “The 5G internet I am proposing will attract new businesses to our area as well as equipping our current businesses with greatly improved convenience and opportunities for innovation,” Chickering said.
Maggie Mae, a small business consultant and chairwoman of the Snohomish County Libertarian Party, said it’s time to make better use of the PUD for the public good.
“Imagine creating community-owned banks of energy. Imagine turning your meter off at will through an app on your phone,” Mae said. “How about getting an alert that tells you which appliance is using the most energy?”
Mae supports a system that would allow consumers to set a monthly energy budget and receive notifications when usage approaches that amount. “You could have control and be able to contribute back to the grid.”
Rebecca Wolfe, a conservation activist, faults the PUD for spending money pursuing the hydroelectric project at Sunset Falls on the Skykomish River. “‘Those dollars could have provided solar power and energy efficiency for many homes and businesses at a reduced cost,” Wolfe said.
In addition, she hopes to speak to protecting the climate and reducing energy costs. If elected, she would focus on benefiting low-income customers, young families and longtime customers, and providing additional incentives for “good energy projects.”
Janice Podsada: firstname.lastname@example.org; 425-339-3097. Twitter: @JanicePods.