PUD race pits 3-term official against 2-time challenger

Kathy Vaughn has been a commissioner for the Snohomish County Public Utility District longer than anyone in the past 50 years, according to the utility.

Vaughn, 62, was first elected in 1994 and is seeking a fourth six-year term representing southwest Snohomish County.

Her challenger, Eric Teegarden, 43, believes she’s been in office long enough, and it’s someone else’s turn.

Vaughn says her longevity is an asset, that’s she’s helped accomplish a lot for the PUD, including creating conservation programs, improving bond ratings and pushing for exploring renewable power.

“Frankly, I’d put my record up against any person in the country,” she said.

Vaughn is the owner of Goldmark Financial Corp., a Lynnwood mortgage company. Teegarden is a designer and sales consultant for Northwest Wind and Solar of Seattle. Teegarden also ran against Vaughn for the Snohomish County PUD commissioner in 2006. He’s previously run once for city council in Brier and twice in Mountlake Terrace.

His company is one of those with which the PUD works on installations of solar panels in the county. Anne Spangler, the attorney for the utility, said there would be no conflict of interest if Teegarden is elected as long as he is not directly benefiting financially from PUD policies.

The PUD provides financial incentives for owners of homes and businesses to install solar panels. The utility provides a list of contractors to prospective customers, who then select the company to do the work.

Teegarden, who receives a sales commission in addition to a salary from the company, said he would do no business in the PUD’s service area, which includes Snohomish County and Camano Island. He would pass on to coworkers any business leads he receives in Snohomish County, he said.

Teegarden has said he believes the PUD should put more resources into developing solar power. He says his main focus, however, will be to push for more incentives for customers to replace outdated heating systems such as electric baseboards.

The PUD advocates replacement of baseboard systems with ductless heat pumps, which can cut winter heating costs by 25 to 50 percent, according to the utility.

The systems typically cost $5,000 to $6,000, according to the PUD. As incentive, the utility provides a choice of an $800 rebate or low-interest, $6,000 loan.

Vaughn said incentive programs cost money and the utility has to balance this with a number of other factors, including keeping rates down.

“The PUD has been a national leader in conservation since the 1980s,” she said.

The utility is now helping customers save about $22 million a year through conservation measures, she said. This is only a small percentage of the utility’s $821 million 2012 budget, Teegarden said.

“We could easily do all of these wonderful things if nobody cared about what they paid for electricity,” Vaughn said.

Teegarden also believes the utility is moving too slowly in moving to a “smart grid,” in which electronic sensors and fiber-optic line will be placed throughout the system to speed the flow of information and aid efficient use of power.

Teegarden said some pundits have predicted the oil supply has begun to dwindle.

“When that happens we’re going to see millions of people in the United States buying electric cars,” he said. “It’s going to cause a huge spike in demand and our grid isn’t set up to handle that right now.”

The PUD is in the beginning stages of implementing “smart grid” upgrades, officials said.

“You can only move as fast as you can,” Vaughn said, adding that the PUD has already spent $8.3 million on a new outage management system. This is part of a larger upgrade, much of which is expected to be finished by 2014, spokesman Neil Neroutsos said.

Teegarden also opposes the idea of building a mini-dam on Sunset Falls on the Skykomish River near Index. The PUD has already built a small dam on Youngs Creek near Sultan and is studying the possibility of doing the same at Sunset Falls. No decision has been made. If the project is built, it’s estimated to cost between $110 million and $170 million. Some neighbors and environmental groups are vigorously fighting the idea.

“It’s opportunity cost — what could be done with $170 million in other ways?” Teegarden said.

Officials say mini-dams add to the amount of home-grown power for the PUD, which still buys the vast majority of its electricity from the Bonneville Power Administration.

Vaughn stressed the Sunset Falls project is only being studied at this point.

If it’s built, she said, “it will be a 100-year asset.”

Bill Sheets: 425-339-3439; sheets@heraldnet.com.

What’s the job?

A six-year term representing southwest Snohomish County on the Snohomish County Public Utility District’s Board of Directors. The position pays a flat $1,800 per month, with a $104 per diem added for doing PUD business on any part of a day, capped at $14,560 for the year. The maximum amount that can be earned by a commissioner in a year is $36,160.

Eric Teegarden

Residence: Brier

Age: 43

Experience: Six years working as a renewable energy systems designer and sales consultant (solar, wind and geothermal) 2006 to present; former civil engineer, city of Seattle; energy chairman of Sierra Club Snohomish Group 2007 to present

Website: www.ericteegarden.com

Kathy Vaughn

Residence: Lynnwood

Age: 62

Experience: Snohomish County PUD commissioner, 18 years; member, American Public Power Association’s policymakers council; 31 years in mortgage business, including ownership of Goldmark Financial Corporation, Lynnwood, since 1994

Website: www.kathy4pud.com

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