Dave Aldrich warrants third term on PUD

The races every two years among those seeking a spot on the Snohomish Public Utility District’s board of commissioners ought to earn just as much attention from voters as campaigns for city council, county executive or the Legislature. The Snohomish PUD board not only sets your electricity rates and ensures the lights stay on, it’s responsible for deciding where we’re going to find that power as demand grows.

Incumbent District 1 Commissioner Dave Aldrich, seeking his third, and what he says would be his final six-year term, is being challenged by Bruce King.

King launched his campaign over his dissatisfaction with the delivery of electricity to his pig and dairy farm near Arlington. He counts 38 times he’s lost power on his farm, no small concern for a business dependent on electricity. King also faults the PUD for what he calls the highest electricity rates in the state.

The PUD rates are high, but much of that has more to do with the PUD’s past than its present, specifically the WPPSS nuclear plant fiasco in the 1970s and the PUD’s poor timing in 2000 and 2001 in buying energy on the open market at the same time the West Coast energy crisis hit. Aldrich defends the PUD’s current pricing scheme of more frequent but smaller increases, rather than shocking ratepayers with less frequent but larger bumps. Looking more recently, the PUD’s increases have been below the rate of inflation, Aldrich says, and in time those rates should begin to equalize with those of other utilities.

Regarding outages, Aldrich explains, they are more frequent in rural areas, as King has experienced, and its crews continue work to remove trees that pose a threat to lines. The PUD can consider building additional transmission lines and substations that would make such outages less frequent, but Aldrich makes the valid point that doing so would represent an increased cost to all PUD customers.

King, as evidenced by the materials he has prepared and his campaign website, has done a great deal of research and thinking about issues related to the PUD. But his calls for greater transparency and responsiveness from commissioners are blunted by his own admission that he hasn’t attended a single PUD commission meeting and his lack of awareness that tapes of the meetings are already available to the public.

Both King and Aldrich support the PUD’s current philosophy to look for and study potential renewable energy sources that can eventually become a greater part of the utility’s power portfolio. King is critical of the expense and effort that went into the now abandoned project to study two tidal turbines on the seafloor of Admiralty Inlet. The risk, King says, should have been spread out better among the private sector, limiting the contribution from the PUD. With the utility still stinging from the tidal project, it’s hoped the PUD will look for ways to limit its exposure when it investigates new technologies. But the PUD can’t be faulted for considering those potential sources. Tidal power deserved a good look in the research project, Aldrich said, if only because of our close proximity to a vast reservoir of potential energy that the state’s inland seas represent.

In his two terms, Aldrich has demonstrated careful stewardship of the PUD, a reasoned approach to setting rates, a willingness to work with the utility’s managers, employees and ratepayers and the background knowledge about power generation and transmission issues, conservation, renewable energy and public policy.

Aldrich has the backing of The Herald Editorial Board.

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