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Cowlitz PUD commissioners Tuesday announced that Ridgefield consultant Steve Kern is their top pick to become the utility’s new general manager.

Kern and the commissioner still have to negotiate a contract.

Kern, 59, is an independent energy consultant with 35 years’ experience working for utilities and energy companies, such as Duke Energy out of Spokane and Portland-based PNGC Power, where he was senior vice president.

Just prior to starting independent consulting, he worked for Seattle City Light as a power supply and environmental affairs officer. He left that role two years ago in favor of returning to a rural life in Ridgefield, where he and his wife have had a home for the last 18 years.

“I really wanted to get back into an organization where I could help drive the direction of the organization, given everything I know and the challenges they face,” Kern said following the PUD commissioners meeting. “The energy business is becoming more and more complex, and I truly enjoy helping people make good decisions and to navigate through this ever-changing world.”

Throughout his career, Kern said he has specialized in power supplies, portfolio risk management and renewable resources. He has 25 years of experience in working with the Bonneville Power Administration, from which the PUD buys 90 percent of its electricity.

The PUD has faced a number of challenges and political upheaval since it fired former General Manager, Brian Skeahan, in January 2013.

The utility had been searching for a new general manager since the summer, when Don McMaster announced his intent to retire. The finalists were kept confidential throughout most of the hiring process on the request of some of the applicants, although the utility said it would release the names of the top three finalists Tuesday.

Commissioner Kurt Anagnostou said plans changed after two days of intensive interviews this week, when one applicant said he wanted to be paid $100,000 more than McMaster, who now makes $177,000.

Kern stood out compared to the remaining applicant, added Commissioner Dena Diamond-Ott.

Commissioners have directed staff to move forward with negotiating a contract with Kern.

McMaster doesn’t have a set date of when he will retire and instead is waiting for the utility to select his replacement.

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The Daily News, Longview, Wash.

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