Snohomish County PUD’s CEO announces retirement

EVERETT — Steve Klein, the general manager and CEO of the Snohomish Public Utility District for the past nine years, announced Wednesday he will retire on May 1.

Klein, 62, joined the PUD in 2006 after working for Tacoma Power for 28 years, capping his career there as superintendent.

He was eligible for retirement under his pension plan at Tacoma Power, but renewed his five-year contract with the PUD in 2011.

At the time, he said, he informed the utility’s board of directors that he might not stay on for the full five-year term.

“I really have had a wonderful opportunity in the twilight of my career to lead the Snohomish PUD for almost a decade,” Klein said. “If I’ve done my job right, my leaving the PUD shouldn’t have any impact.”

The Snohomish PUD had 327,871 customers in 2013, making it the 12th largest public utility in the nation.

Kathy Vaughn, PUD board president, said a national search will be conducted for Klein’s replacement.

There is no projected date for a new CEO to be hired, she said.

Klein made a base salary of $366,826 for the past year of his contract, making him one of the highest-paid public officials in the state. (His salary is more than twice Snohomish County Executive Jon Lovick’s $161,114, for example.)

Klein also is eligible this year for a 15 percent bonus on top of that, about $55,000 in additional pay.

In 2013, the utility made a net income of $69 million, up from $63.7 million the year before. Revenues for 2013 were $624.8 million, up from $604.2 million in 2012.

Financial results for 2014 have not been audited and were not available Wednesday.

Winter residential rates have increased to 9.4 cents per kilowatt-hour from about 8 cents per kilowatt-hour in 2006 when Klein joined the utility, company spokesman Neil Neroutsos said.

Average homes use about 1,000 kilowatt-hours per month of electricity in the winter, Neroutsos said, with average bills therefore rising to $188 every two months in 2015 from $160 nine years ago.

Klein took over from Ed Hansen, the former Everett mayor who was tapped to make reforms at the PUD after the previous general manager was let go over controversial spending. Klein joined the utility during the energy crisis, when Enron was found to have been manipulating energy prices in the marketplace. The PUD was in the process of trying to get out of some expensive energy contracts, he said, and his first order was to get the utility back onto more secure footing.

He then worked to set a longer-term strategy for the utility that included climate policy, incorporating more renewable energy into the power mix, a tidal power project that didn’t come to fruition, and developing battery storage technology.

“He came up with a lot of inventive and innovative ideas that made the Snohomish Country PUD a national leader,” Vaughn said.

Another of Klein’s significant successes was to renew a 20-year contract with the Bonneville Power Administration in 2011, and then in response to the passage of Initiative 937, develop long-term contracts with three eastern Washington wind farms, said Glenn McPherson, the PUD’s assistant general manager for finance.

The PUD buys about 85 percent of its power from the Bonneville Power Administration, and the new wind power contracts make up another 8 percent of the PUD’s power mix, McPherson said.

The remainder of the mix is composed of smaller hydroelectric and biomass projects.

The utility’s Solar Express project also results in savings, mostly in customers’ lower levels of consumption, Klein said.*

Klein said he hasn’t set any definite plans other than to attend his children’s college graduation ceremonies.

“I could just see myself dabbling or doing something in clean technology or energy policy,” he said. “I could see myself doing volunteer work, I can see myself getting back into an exercise routine.”

“I literally have not taken a vacation in over a decade,” Klein said.

Chris Winters: 425-374-4165; Twitter: @Chris_At_Herald.

Correction, Feb. 12, 2015: The Solar Express home energy project is run by Snohomish County Public Utility District, not the county, as reported in an earlier version of this story.

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