EVERETT — Renewable energy, broadband internet and utility rates are the focus for incumbent Sidney Logan and challenger Rob Toyer in a race to represent District 1 on the Snohomish County Public Utility District’s board of commissioners.
Three nonpartisan commissioners oversee the Snohomish County PUD, the second-largest publicly owned utility in the state. The commission sets utility rates, directs policy and hires a general manager.
The PUD serves more than 355,000 electric customers in Snohomish County and on Camano Island. It also provides water to more than 21,000 customers through supplies purchased from the city of Everett. Renewable hydropower makes up about 80% of the county’s power supply, most of which comes from the Bonneville Power Administration.
District 1 covers the northern half of the county, including Everett, Marysville, Arlington, Granite Falls, Stanwood and Darrington, and Camano Island in Island County.
Logan was appointed to the post in March 2017 before winning the November 2018 election to complete the final two years of a six-year term. Logan’s appointment runs through the end of this year.
The Nov. 4 election is for a chance to serve a regular six-year term.
If elected, Logan said, he will continue to push for keeping utility rates as low as possible.
The PUD is on its third year with no rate increase, and Logan said he doesn’t anticipate that changing in 2021.
Toyer said he will also prioritize providing financial assistance to customers who are income-qualified.
“We have to keep people’s lights on and their water running,” Logan said. “We’re going to do everything we can to get people connected.”
In March, the PUD suspended shutoffs for past-due ratepayers as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. The district also expanded payment options and provided some direct assistance, Logan said.
As of mid-October, 5% of PUD customers were behind on paying their balance, according to the district. That’s roughly three times the normal amount for this time of year.
“Right now, it’s not hurting us,” Logan said. “I’m glad we can do it. They’ll have to meet us some way, but I don’t know what that looks like right now.”
Logan also highlighted renewable energy as a priority.
Over the past five years, the district’s power sources have been more than 96% carbon-free, according to the PUD.
Washington’s Clean Energy Transformation Act, passed last year, requires utilities to offer completely carbon-neutral electricity by 2030 and 100% carbon-free electricity by 2045.
To get there, Logan said, he’d like to see the PUD take on another community solar initiative like the two-acre solar project completed last year.
The program filled up in less than a month.
“There’s big interest out there,” Logan said.
If reelected, Logan said, he’d like to oversee the implementation of the PUD’s “Connect Up” program — an initiative to replace ratepayers’ electric meters with digital ones. He voted to move forward with the plan in August.
“That’s going to be our path to 100% carbon-free,” Logan said.
The program incentivizes customers to shift their power usage to non-peak times so the PUD can avoid buying power produced with natural gas or coal from the open market during peak hours.
The Connect Up program will cost the PUD nearly $90 million to deploy over the next five years.
Logan’s opponent, Toyer, said he doesn’t believe now is the time to invest in the smart meters.
He declined a phone interview with The Daily Herald, instead answering questions via email.
If elected, Toyer wrote. he will work to ensure “ratepayer dollars aren’t wasted on projects that don’t benefit our customers.”
Toyer served on the Marysville City Council from 2011 to 2019 and has served on the Marysville Fire Board of Directors and the Marysville City Council Finance Committee.
He highlighted increased transparency within the PUD as a priority.
Like Logan, he would like to see continued efforts to make solar panels more widely available to homeowners and businesses.
“Currently, they are cost prohibitive and I’d like to see the government provide incentives like the Investment tax credit to help subsidize the cost of solar energy,” he said.
To address the PUD’s current backlog of customer payments, Toyer said. he would support setting up low payment plans and offering grants.
“I don’t believe in shutting anyone’s power off, as long as they are open and communicate what their intentions are of paying their bill,” he said.
PUD staff should also be outfitted in proper personal protective equipment when working in the field, he said.
Both candidates would like the PUD to explore expanding broadband into rural parts of Snohomish County.
“Given our current environment, access to high speed internet and the demands on its usage should be a top priority,” Toyer said.
He’d like to see the district do a better job of partnering with Snohomish County and cellular companies to develop broadband potential.
The PUD is currently working on putting a team together to look into broadband expansion, Logan said. It would be an entirely new line of business for the PUD.
“The need has always been there,” Logan said. “But now the need is more apparent.”