In 2008 Jefferson County won their public power initiative and proceeded to take over from PSE. Three counties tried that year but only Jefferson County successfully liberated itself from PSE’s private monopoly control. Going from passing the initiative to establishing themselves now a decade in was a wild ride. They learned through the process and we can learn from them when we win!
Let’s start by acknowledging that their victory wasn’t easy either. PSE, embarrassed by their loss, has tried to downplay what it means but at the time PSE fought hard and dirty with their usual lack of scruples for democracy! Although it is true that because Skagit and Island County were also running initiatives at the same time PSE may have prioritized fighting to keep their peasants paying their tithes to the monopoly private electric lords in those larger counties.
In 2008, the citizens of Jefferson County approved a ballot measure authorizing the PUD to pursue the acquisition of the county’s electrical grid from the privately held Bellevue-based Puget Sound Energy (PSE). Skagit and Island counties had similar propositions on the ballot, but only Jefferson’s succeeded. Why? In part it was because Jefferson County was a small community at the far end of PSE’s service territory, and PSE did not spend the resources it spent in those other larger counties to fight the proposition.
But it was also because many Jefferson County residents felt the quality of electrical service and reliability had declined after PSE outsourced its line crew services to Sumner-based Potelco in the early 2000s and consolidated its customer service outside of the county. Many residents were equally dismayed when, in 2007, PSE, a Bellevue WA based business for over 50 years, sold to an international consortium based out of Australia.
Jefferson County currently has a population of roughly 31,000 which is close to a tenth the size of Thurston County. Despite such a small population PSE spent $249,565.54 on trying to defeat the people’s initiative in 2008, which dwarfed the $28,217.22 raised in favor from mostly individuals.
At the same time PSE was working in overdrive to undermine the democracy in two other counties. PSE spent $426,344.31 in successfully defeating the initiative in Skagit County. PSE also spent $286,778.29 defeating the initiative on Whidbey Island. Both of the supportive people lead campaigns couldn’t come close to matching that much largess spending on propaganda. Again those money amounts don’t count the political bribery of campaign contributions to politicians PSE had been doing since the beginning, nor the self promotion and green washing that PSE found it important to advertise to those areas.
Jefferson County’s citizen initiative did win though in 2008 despite PSE. That meant that the PUD had the ability to declare eminent domain technically and buy PSE’s assets at cost. PSE came at them afterwards with a room full of corporate lawyers to make sure the new electric PUD paid a high value for their assets or else they would bog them down in expensive court battles for a decade.
Jefferson flipped on the switch four years later in 2012 as citizen’s who owned their electric utility. It hasn’t been easy for them. They had to figure out a lot of hard lessons but today the utility is run smoothly and there is a great deal of citizen input into it’s future. The people there are empowered. The rates are lower. There are efforts for green energy. The people who work for the electric PUD live in the county. The money that people pay towards their bills stays in the county.
Here in Thurston County we can do the same thing. We can win public power. We can end the fleecing of our citizens. We can set our own path towards energy independence and green energy. Citizens will have democratic control and citizen input. The money that we spend on our electric bills will be lower but more importantly, it will stay in our county and not be sent out to the foreign owners.