In the race for Cowlitz County PUD’s District 2 Commissioner, both Duane Dalgleish and Ned Piper have painted themselves as advocates for customers.
“I think it’s good that we’re both arguing the same thing, because that’s primary to the commissioners job,” Piper said Wednesday. “All I can say is I’ve got 24 years of experience in that role.”
Piper recounted an instruction he once gave a PUD worker who was receiving requests for Piper’s phone number: “I want people to have my cell number, my home number, my email address, because that’s my job, to try to help people with their problems and advocate for them,” Piper said.
Dalgleish said his role on the PUD’s Electrical Rates Advisory Committee, a voluntary board he’s been a member of for the six years it has existed, has put him in constant contact with customer issues and the PUD’s budgeting — two priorities for the commissioner position.
“I know budgets, and I know contracts,” Dalgleish said Tuesday. “And most of the things that the commissioners do at the PUD are budgets and contracts.”
The candidates have agreed on many issues facing the PUD in public forums and debates: they’re both skeptical of Initiative 1631, eager for investments by major industrial plants in the county, and cautiously open to contracting for power outside of the Bonneville Power Administration, where the PUD buys most of its power. But they have locked horns on some issues.
Piper said he’s optimistic about White Creek and Harvest Wind, two wind farms the PUD built in southern Washington after I-937 passed in 2006 to comply with the initiative’s green energy requirements. The wind farms cost the PUD about $11.6 million per year and generate about $4 million per year in revenue, PUD communications manager Alice Dietz said
Piper said in 2016 that the PUD “probably should not have built Harvest Wind,” but he said Wednesday that he’s reconsidered that position.
“At the time, they were very sound investments,” Piper said. “And I believe that over time, we will discover that they were incredible investments. Because when the bonds are paid off, the wind farms will still be producing. The wind is free, so the power source is free. The only cost will be operations and maintenance.”
Piper said it’s hard to tell when the county will break even on the turbines. But they’ve pulled double duty by fulfilling the law and allowing the PUD to prepare for the county’s growth, he said.
Dalgleish said that “years will tell” if the wind farms prove to be solid investments.
“Future years will tell us whether they will or not,” he said. “Right now they’re not. The PUD is paying the price. ... The first (farm) they built was fine. The second one, they should have asked the people for their opinion before they jumped in and put our PUD in debt by $3 million.”Dalgleish said he understands why the PUD invested in the turbines — they were an appetizing investment, independent from Bonneville — but he said the PUD should have run the idea by ratepayers first.
Dalgleish and Piper are both against Washington’s proposed carbon fee initiative, but they’re not completely against the idea of a carbon tax.
Dalgleish questioned the legislators’ decision to not include members of the electricity or utility district industries on the 15-member board, which the initiative would create to oversee money raised from the fee.
“We’re not represented,” Dalgleish said. “In two years, they’re going to get over $2 billion worth of monies and a blank check, as far as I’m concerned. How do they know what to give us?”
“Washington state and our utility are virtually carbon-free, once we get rid of the coal plant in Centralia,” Piper said. “It just seems to me to be overkill to impose a carbon tax on utilities or industries.”
The PUD buys more than 90 percent of its wholesale power from the Bonneville Power Administration, according to its website. (The rest comes from the PUD’s own dam on the Lewis River.)
But in addition to its hydroelectric dams, Bonneville also sells power from the Columbia Generating Station (a Richland-area nuclear plant) and makes miscellaneous energy purchases on the open market. So the power that Cowlitz’ and other county’s PUDs buy from Bonnevile is not entirely hydroelectric, and it’s difficult to determine the exact breakdown of Bonneville’s energy sources.
The Cowlitz PUD’s fuel source mix is about 82 percent hydroelectric, 9 percent nuclear, 4 percent coal, 3 percent wind, 1.5 percent natural gas, and a tiny amount of other sources, per its website.
This mix of energy sources — along with the contentious debate around whether hydroelectric power should be treated as “green” — complicates the initiative’s effects on the PUD.
“They have to tax us because we don’t know what power we’re buying,” Dalgleish said. “But they don’t know how much they’re going to tax us.”