What does the Initiative do?
- Thurston Public Utility District (TPUD) currently provides water service. A vote of the people is required to add authority for electric distribution and service. A petition from voters will put the question of adding electric authority to TPUD on the November 2020 ballot.
- Your “Yes” vote for Thurston County electric authority allows our existing (TPUD) to become our electrical provider but does not mandate it. TPUD could conduct a full feasibility study into the best way forward. Should TPUD conclude that public power is not currently viable, TPUD could wait until it is. Meanwhile, PSE will continue to provide service.
- Converting to public power is a public process with public meetings and elected officials. The public will have multiple opportunities throughout this lengthy process to weigh in on whether they want to proceed or not. If the TPUD acts in ways counter to the public’s desire, voters may replace those Commissioners.
- Thurston PUD would have the support of a statewide public power community to plan and implement a transition. They would hire experts and trained staff to replace PSE and ensure as smooth a transition as possible. As public power, they would also have access to low-interest bonds for the purchase of PSE’s assets. Jefferson PUD successfully navigated this transition less than ten years ago.
What could TPUD do with electric authority?
- That depends on decisions by the three PUD Commissioners and what the public wants them to do. They could explore renewable energy projects. They would have access to a slice of cheap Bonneville Power Authority electricity for economic development special projects. Or they could take over the Puget Sound Energy’s electric system and become Thurston County’s electric company. Thurston PUD would have ten years to use the authority in any way, from finding one customer to taking over PSE’s electric service.
What’s wrong with PSE?
- PSE is a for-profit corporation primarily owned by investors in Canada and The Netherlands. They are regulated by the State Utility and Transportation Commission (UTC), who regularly approve their frequent rate increase requests.
- Their business decisions provide more profit for their wealthy investors rather than reinvestment to the local economy and local jobs as would be provided by a public-owned utility.
- PSE’s decision-making occurs behind closed doors. No one knows what they will come up with next to help widen their profit margin. In a world where we see PGE in California filing for bankruptcy over mismanaging wildfire protection, and Boeing paralyzed from a disconnect between safety and corporate profits, Thurston County citizens are concerned about their lack of influence on PSE’s decisions.
How would Public Power affect our local economy?
- Public power means adding jobs in Thurston County – many of them union jobs with good pay. PSE’s base of operations is in King County, where their high-paid executives work.
- Under public power, all employees will be stationed in Thurston County. Both the managers and workers responding to outages will be familiar with and live in the area and by definition more committed to our community; they will be much more familiar with the system than someone from outside the county could ever be, and the salaries paid with your rates will be reinvested here in our local economy.
- In addition, Thurston PUD can use electric service strategically to support the local economy. Local control means greater flexibility to be partners in investments that create sustainable living wage jobs.
Would our rates change if Thurston PUD becomes our electric utility?
- Most likely rates would go down, or at least stay the same.
- Thurston PUD, like other public utilities, would have access to federal hydropower at lower rates than PSE and other corporations, and get financing at lower rates than corporate utilities.
- Every year, millions of dollars paid by Thurston County ratepayers leave our county for overseas corporate profits, money that could stay in our community, create local jobs and economy, and importantly—to help lower rates.
- Public power is non-profit, thus any gains are used to pay off debt, to maintain more reliable infrastructure, to explore alternative energy strategies, and to keep rates lower.
Would Public Power help us respond to the Climate Crisis?
- PSE has invested heavily in the carbon economy. PSE gets over one-third of its electricity from coal, and another one-fifth from natural gas, so over half of their power is generated by burning fossil fuels. Although they own several hydroelectric projects, they also get power from coal-fired plants in Montana and Utah. They are proposing a Liquid Natural Gas (LNG) facility in Pierce County, now well under construction despite objection of the local tribe upon whose traditional lands it sits and widespread objection by the community.
- Despite warnings of scientists and pleas from youth organizers such as the Sunrise Movement that immediate action is needed to divest from fossil fuels, PSE continues with “business as usual” to please their investors. Rather than divest, PSE has increased fossil fuels use over the past eight years.
- By contrast, public utilities enthusiastically embrace emerging energy technologies and conservation strategies such as smart grids and distributed generation. Corporate utilities like PSE have powerful lobbies and do what is legally required. Thurston County needs a responsive public utility lead by an elected body accountable to voters to prepare us for a progressive energy future.
Why would it be better if our electric utility is a PUD instead of a corporation?
- Commissioners elected by Thurston County voters govern the PUD. Therefore, Commissioners must be responsive to the public. And as a state-sanctioned municipal corporation, the PUD must follow Open Meeting and Public Disclosure laws and are subject to review by the State Auditor.
- PUDs across Washington have successfully provided public power for over 80 years. Thurston PUD belongs to a network of experienced public electric utilities who work together to provide the best possible service. Thurston County is surrounded by public power: our neighbors in Mason County, Grays Harbor County, Lewis County, and Tacoma all have electricity supplied by public power.
- Thurston PUD’s electric supply strategies would be guided by good business practices, principles of conservation and sustainability, and the will of the public rather than a foreign owned privately held corporation’s push for profits. As we face climate disaster, this would allow the public to guide electric supply to renewable energy sources and help Thurston County to become truly carbon neutral.