PUD race comes at key point for utility


Herald Writer

The District 2 race for Snohomish County PUD commissioner has generated lots of campaign signs but not much else.

Although Kathy Vaughn or Tim Harrigan will be elected to represent residents in an area from Mukilteo south to the King County line and west of I-5, voters from throughout the county and Camano Island — the area served by the PUD — will vote in this race.

Incumbent Vaughn, elected six years ago to her first term, is going up against political newcomer Harrigan.

She says she’s running because she has a job to finish; he says he’s running because he wants to serve his community.

Vaughn says the most important matter for the district is deregulation of the state’s utilities. California and other states are facing issues of costs and power availability and have found that the system they instituted isn’t working, Vaughn said.

While the district can learn from that, she added, she sees "no benefits for Snohomish County or the Pacific Northwest" in changing how the industry works.

A particularly hot button for public power agencies in the Northwest that get power from the Bonneville Power Administration is the issue of "preference." Vaughn describes it as "the ability to purchase power from Bonneville at cost" as Northwest agencies now do. The practice is being challenged by some California legislators and has raised the ire of Gov. Gary Locke and publicly owned utilities like the PUD.

"We have to start addressing these issues now because they could jeopardize the low-cost power base that has given us such a rich economy," Vaughn said.

In contrast, Harrigan, said he sees past decisions by the board as the biggest issue for the district.

"When there’s a poor decision or group of them, the ratepayers pay," he said, adding that good decisions mean low rates. "The board needs someone tuned in to problems that has common sense."

This board, he continued, "has had a history of strange advice." In particular, he cites the board’s move away from buying power from BPA when it decided to try and find cheaper power on the open market.

But when asked about a decision last week to shift back to a contract with the federal agency that could provide up to 85 percent of the PUD’s electricity needs, he said he "hasn’t looked at that."

He added, "It’s still up in the air. It all revolves around what Bonneville decides to do."

He said he’s studied previous district annual reports and budgets — although he conceded last week that he hasn’t reviewed the 2001 draft budget that was presented Oct. 2.

He has not attended board meetings, he said, because he but refuses to take time off from work. If he’s elected, he’ll try to shift meetings to evening hours but said he has an agreement with his partners that he can have time off during the daytime if he doesn’t succeed in the shift.

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