EVERETT — Four candidates are vying for the District 1 position 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, Darrington and Camano Island in Island County.
Incumbent Sidney 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 August 4 primary election is for a chance to serve a regular six-year term. The top two will advance to the general election in November.
Renewable energy, utility rates and broadband internet are common talking points for the candidates.
Logan said he’s happy with strides the PUD has made toward using renewable energy.
Over the past five years, the district’s power sources have been more than 96% carbon-free, according to the PUD.
The district added a two-acre solar project to its portfolio last year.
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.
Logan also pointed to work the district has done on the Sultan River. The utility has removed multiple dams along the river to improve fish passage. In fall 2018, the Water Temperature Conditioning Project helped keep a portion of the river closer to the ideal temperature for fish.
Candidate Bruce King also applauded the district’s use of renewable energy. But he said the board of commissioners needs better oversight of its nuclear power supply, which makes up about 10% of the district’s energy sources. He referenced past safety concerns at the Bonneville Power Administration’s Energy Northwest Columbia Generating Station.
“We have a responsibility to our ratepayers to make sure we’re involved with the safety issues at that nuclear plant,” King said.
He also said the PUD needs to plan for what it would do if its reliance on hydropower is limited by dam removals.
“The PUD is not a fast-moving organization,” he said. “We should probably start thinking about it today.”
Candidate Charles Sias said he’s unsure of the district’s renewable energy policies.
“I’m not a politician,” he said. “I don’t know what’s on the table … I have to take a look at what I have to work with and what’s the direction of the PUD. It’s kind of unfair to ask me that question when I can’t look at the work they’ve done.”
Candidate Rob Toyer did not respond to email and phone requests for an interview.
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.
In his candidate statement, Logan, the incumbent, pledged to work to maintain stable water and electric rates. Raises typically happen about every other year, but the district is now on its third year without a rise in rates.
King, though, argues rates should be decreasing.
He said a downward trend in wholesale natural gas prices — which reached a low in 2019, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration — should translate to the PUD’s power rates. The district has to purchase some electricity wholesale, some of which may be generated using natural gas, during the coldest months when power demand is highest.
“I would expect PUD rates to be decreasing, not remaining stable,” he said.
But lower natural gas prices haven’t translated to retail electricity prices nationwide, which have steadily increased, according to the Energy Information Administration.
The PUD purchases an average of 5% of its power on the wholesale market. The cost of those market purchases has fluctuated from $25 to $40 per megawatt-hour from 2012-2018, with an average of $33 per megawatt-hour, according to the district.
The district sources most of its power from the Bonneville Power Administration, which reported a 5.4 percent average increase in wholesale power rates for fiscal years 2018 and 2019. Rates are set to remain stable for fiscal years 2020 and 2021.
Both King and Logan expressed strong support for programs that would offer assistance to ratepayers financially affected by COVID-19.
The PUD suspended meter reading from March through May in response to the pandemic. Moving forward, the district is offering bill credit for residential customers experiencing an income loss due to COVID.
King said the district should use some of its cash reserves to lower rates.
“The PUD has several million in reserves, which could be used to keep rates as low as possible or used to relieve individuals experiencing unemployment,” he said.
Sias said his stance on rates “depends on what COVID is going to do to the community.”
In his candidate statement for the voter’s guide, Toyer said the district can best support economic recovery from the COVID pandemic through “the financial and customer services it provides ratepayers, the availability of infrastructure to attract businesses and family wage jobs to the Arlington-Marysville Cascade Industrial Center, balancing infrastructure expansion and maintenance needs, maintaining a fiscally responsible PUD by not raising rates, and ensuring sound policy making decisions.”
King strongly supports the district investing in broadband, saying the utility hasn’t done enough to increase internet access for rural residents.
“I don’t think the PUD is doing what we need to get done,” he said.
King’s own residence in Arlington often loses an internet connection for hours or days at a time, he said.
Internet access was also a topic of conversation when King ran against Logan in 2018.
Logan said he’s also supportive of the district pursuing broadband.
“What I’ve been wanting the PUD to do for a while is take a solid look at it and understand how we could fit into that arena,” he said.
Sias, a veteran and retired aircraft builder at Boeing, said he’s running for the open PUD commission position to give back to the community.
“I see that so many things have gone wrong in our community and I just felt, ‘What can I do ?”’ he said. “I see the young men that are in the race and I say, ‘Wow, a lot of skills there.’ I just hope I can contribute and be a part of it.”
Sidney (Sid) Logan
Experience: Snohomish County PUD commissioner since 2017, engineer for 14 years, Arlington School District executive 10 years, bus driver five years, commercial fisherman two years.
Experience: Fifteen years as a software engineer, five years teaching graduate level classes, 20 years as the owner of a small business.
Experience: Retired Boeing aircraft builder, U.S. Army veteran.
Julia-Grace Sanders: 425-339-3439; jgsanders@heraldnet.
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