EVERETT — There is a fresh face on the three-member Snohomish County Public Utility District commission. Rebecca Wolfe, elected in November, joins three-term veteran commissioner Tanya “Toni” Olson and appointed member Sid Logan, who also won voter affirmation last month.
As they are newly elected, The Daily Herald interviewed Wolfe and Logan about emerging PUD issues and their priorities.
‘Stand up and ask questions’
Wolfe has been following the PUD since 2006 — attending commission meetings and putting in her two cents.
Her interest in the energy industry goes way back. Growing up, she helped her father pull wire. “He was a lineman and an electrician,” Wolfe said. “I would go out on jobs with him.”
On Jan. 8 Wolfe, who was elected in November to represent District 2, will be sworn in for a regular six-year term as one of three commissioners. District 2 encompasses southwest Snohomish County, including Lynnwood and Edmonds.
Wolfe replaces longtime District 2 commissioner Kathy Vaughn, who lost her bid for re-election in the summer primary. In the general election, Wolfe received 51.3 percent of the vote to prevail over David Chan.
“I have a lot of people who voted for me — and they expect me to stand up and ask questions,” she said.
An advocate for renewable energy sources, Wolfe has a master’s degree in environmental law and policy from the Vermont Law School and a doctorate in leadership studies from Gonzaga University.
She recently attended the 2018 Washington State Solar Summit and the Washington State Clean Energy Summit in Pasco on her own dime.
Clean energy sources and support for low-income ratepayers are high on her list of priorities.
“Clean for me means something that will not pollute the air, that’s affordable and doesn’t do any more harm to our salmon streams,” said Wolfe, an Edmonds resident.
She also plans to push for greater openness.
The commission came under scrutiny in the fall when it conducted a nationwide search for a new CEO to replace Craig Collar, who retired in June. The board kept the names of the four finalists secret.
Three of the four PUD candidates in the election and some ratepayers decried the process, claiming that the public should have had a chance to meet the finalists.
In defending its actions, the board cited a long history of protecting the confidentiality of applicants.
The Snohomish County PUD, the second largest publicly owned utility in the state, is overseen by three nonpartisan commissioners. It sets policy and utility rates, and hires a general manager/CEO.
The utility serves more than 350,000 electric customers in the county and on Camano Island, which is in Island County.
The PUD 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.
“I would love to work with (the other commissioners) on more microgrid projects and renewable energy and energy efficiency,” she said.
“The next few years are going to be crunch time for energy policy,” said Wolfe, who calls climate change a “national security issue.”
Sid Logan returns to his seat on the PUD commission as the elected representative for District 1, which spans the northern half of the county, including Everett, Marysville, Arlington, Granite Falls and Darrington, as well as Camano Island.
The retired Arlington School District executive and former petroleum engineer was appointed to the commission in March 2017. He was chosen to replace Commissioner Dave Aldrich, who resigned for health reasons. Aldrich died in early 2017.
In November, Logan received nearly 59 percent of the vote to defeat challenger Mary Rollins.
He will serve the final two years of a six-year term.
Logan said his top priority is to ensure the PUD continues to provide low-cost power to ratepayers and makes the most efficient use of public dollars.
He pointed out that all meetings are recorded and posted online.
The recent hiring process, he said, “got politicized.”
Keeping the names of candidates confidential was important to make sure “we got the very best pool of candidates.” The commission ultimately chose John Haarlow, who was already working for the PUD as assistant general manager of distribution and engineering services.
On the energy front, Logan said, he’s excited about the new Arlington microgrid project, which is expected to go online in 2020.
The microgrid, which will be powered by an array of solar panels, will have enough storage capacity — one megawatt hour — to power 700 homes for an hour. The system can be detached from the main grid and function independently during an emergency.
Ratepayers will be able to purchase shares in the microgrid, Logan said, instead of having to install their own solar panels.
Electric vehicles also will be able to plug into the system.
The question of installing more electric vehicle charging stations is bound to come up before the board, but he isn’t sure the PUD should own those stations.
“When you own them you have to maintain them,” he said.
Logan noted that the PUD is adding about 3,500 ratepayers per year. owever, overall power consumption is going down, he said.
The biggest factors are conservation measures to reduce demand and new building codes that dictate greater energy efficiency, Logan said.
He plans to delve deeper into what can be done to help low-income ratepayers, particularly families and seniors, pay their utility bills.
Janice Podsada: firstname.lastname@example.org; 425-339-3097: Twitter: JanicePods.