Sept. 18 Daily News editorial
One statement Mark McCrady made to our Editorial Board sums up his differences with Kurt Anagnostou, his challenger for a seat on the Cowlitz Public Utility District Commission.
"The goal should always be looking 20 years down the road," McCrady said. "We need to build the system that will support the jobs and growth of the future."
We think McCrady's doing just that in the complex field of public utility management, while Anagnostou second-guesses past decisions and makes some unsupported claims about the PUD's spending.
Because of his deeper knowledge of the issues and passion for the arcane details of the job, we urge voters to re-elect McCrady to another term as PUD commissioner.
Both candidates have extensive — and similar — careers in public service. They both served on the Longview City Council for 12 years, including one four-year term as mayor. McCrady said that in his past six years on the PUD commission, he's learned that running a regional electric utility is much different from the city's job of providing water and sewer services to city residents.
Anagnostou says the PUD has been "mismanaged," giving as an example its decisions starting in 2004 to build wind turbines in Central Washington. Anagnostou calls that a "$160 million speculation on an energy market in California." Eventually, a California law required utilities to buy their green energy in state, a major factor in the PUD's rate increases last year.
We wouldn't go so far as to call the wind turbine project speculative, though as McCrady put it, the PUD did take a risk in assuming that California utilities would buy green energy from Washington. "It's easy to second-guess a decision eight years in hindsight," he said.
McCrady also argued that in the long run, the wind turbines may indeed prove to be a boon for the PUD. As the general market price of electricity increases to approach and match the cost of generating wind power, the PUD will be able to sell its surplus, he said.
Anagnostou also faults the PUD for enlarging its operations center on Industrial Way and for replacing old meters that were read by meter readers with new meters that send out a signal that can be monitored remotely. He said they aren't as reliable as the old models; McCrady said it's important for the PUD to upgrade technology that can allow customers to better monitor their electricity usage.
The major issue facing the PUD in terms of public perception is its 18 percent rate hike over the past year at the same time it was giving pay raises to some of its highest-paid workers. Most of the rate increase is driven by California politics and the cost of power from the Bonneville Power Administration, which are both beyond the local board's control.
McCrady pointed out that, despite its rate increases, the Cowlitz PUD still has some of the lowest residential utility rates in the nation and that the utility's labor costs have decreased over the last few years. He added that the Longview City Council passed numerous rate increases while Anagnostou was mayor.
McCrady said the PUD has to pay competitive salaries to keep its best employees. This "keeping up with what the Joneses pay" argument never impresses us much, and we think freezing pay for folks making up to $180,000 year (the listed salary for General Manager Brian Skeahan) when rates are going up would have been a good public relations move for the PUD. Voters with a total focus on administrators' pay will probably lean toward Anagnostou.
Overall, McCrady does his homework on the complex issues facing the PUD and is the most knowledgeable member of the three-member commission. We feel it would be unwise to replace him.