Issues – Positions – Thoughts

I’m providing some answers to questions I get from Utility customers, questions I ask and information and judgements I make on the leadership, management and direction of OUR utility. Please feel welcome to send me your input either by email or by phone. jim@electjimwest.com or 360.609.0749

First and most asked question: Why would you want to run for PUD Commissioner?

As a customer- owner of Clark PUD for 33 years, I’ve benefited from the work and vision of others. I have a vision of us building a stronger more livable community for our kids and grandkids.

This role fits my strengths and skills. Ability to listen, work in a team with others, and be direct in communications. I’ve got a passion and interest in seeing our Utility continue to provide great customer service to our community. It is a good way for me to give back, which is part of our Northwest and American heritage.

Our Utility is a great community asset. I pledge to devote the time to understand the issues, and make common sense decisions that benefit the community as a whole.

What is a PUD Commissioner ?

The second most asked question. Essentially 3 people are hired by the community to be the Board of Directors and ensure the Leadership of the utility performs at a high level.
We select and supervise the CEO, we set direction and policy, we approve the budgets and monitor the financial performance on a monthly basis.

This is a 6 year job, a committment to represent the owners so we all enjoy the benefits of our natural resources.

The more people I talk with, the more I realize how  little awareness there is in Clark County about Clark  PUD and the role Public Power plays in our lives.

This has spurred me to placing the theme  Keeping the Public in Public Power as one of my top four priorities.    Our utility does a good job with their public communications, website  and public outreach.

With that said, there is still a fair amount of dissatisfaction within the community about openness and transparency.     This is not being critical of the PUD’s public outreach.  I’ve listened as the current Commissioners have themselves expressed a desire for greater Public awareness.  Public Power  was instituted in the 1930’s in Washington.  It has a great tradition and history.   It is a story we should bring forth more fully.

However we are almost 5 generations removed from that time.  Clark County has many new residents who may not be familiar with the reasons behind Public Power , or the tremendous value we reieve from the federal hydro dam system.    Keeping the Public in Public Power is simply a recognition that we need to set a new standard. We need to raise Public Awareness and Outreach to the same levels  as we have Customer Service.

What is our long term Energy outlook ?

Overall  we are in good shape here inClark Countyfor our energy production.

BPA  supplies us with over 50% of our power – most of which comes in the form of  Hydro power – generated by the dams along theColumbia River.    Clark PUD recently signed a long term contract that runs through 2028,  where we have access to 2.2% of BPA’s production.    We have a Natural Gas plant  out in West  Vancouver onRiver Road that can supply over 30% of our electricity needs.

Our biggest challenge  is while we have a stable supply of power, the pricing of that power is still to be determined.   In fact, with  open market power rates remaining low because of reduced demand from a weak economic recovery,  Clark PUD having a twenty year  fixed rate contract  with a wind farm in Eastern Oregon, and Natural gas costs being at historic low levels,  BPA rates seem the most vulnerable to increases of all our sources.

This is one reason I do not necessarily subscribe to the idea that declaring Hydro-power as a renewable resource really helps solve much of our problem in terms of maintaining affordable power rates.

If you review the 2010 Integrated Resources plan – prepared  by  Clark PUD every two years ( to be updated in August 2012),  it states clearly Clark County has a solid supply of power for the next decade.  A big component of that is the River Road Natural Gas Plant.   Built in 1998 – fifteen years ago, it is still a bit controversial, and it’s best benefits may be in our future.

Natural Gas- What is the story here?

 It is interesting that natural gas is considered a clean energy source on the federal level, but not on the state level?    New technologies and a change in political focus over the last decade are allowing our country t to produce much greater quantities of this fuel.  Large companies and utilities across the country are making natural gas a major component of their energy mix.  Prices have plummeted in the past year, primarily because production has exceeded demand due to the continued struggling economy.

Clark PUD has not been able to take great advantage of this drop in price, but with our River Road Natural Gas Plant able to serve 30% of our power needs it bodes well for us to have a stable reliable source of power as we move into the future.  Our biggest energy challenge in terms of production during  the next decade here inClarkCountywill  be ensuring we can handle “peak load “  capacity.  These occur during summer heat waves or cold days in the winter.  We may need to add some capacity toRiver Road  to help us manage those peaks.

I-937 – Renewable Energy – What is the next step ?

Since its passage in 2006 this law has generated plenty of heated discussion.  Starting in 2012 Utilities have had to file reports with the State auditor’s office explaining how they have complied with the law.

There are several methodologies under whichClarkhas complied.   Firs and probably best known is we purchased a Wind Mill Farm inEastern Oregonfor $388 million dollars to be paid over twenty years.    This helps us get over the 3% mandate required in 2012.

However there are two other ways we’ve complied that receive less attention.   First we’ve had negative load growth for 5 years.  This is due partly to the economy, and partly due to strong efforts by our PUD to implement active conservation and energy efficiency programs.    Second, I-937 says if Utility  expenses for power are 4% above what they would because of using renewables, you are in compliance with the law.

Clark has reached that threshold, and anticipates for the most part they will continue in compliance using that methodology. Clarkhas filed their first compliance report with the State Auditor based on this scenario.

While there has been much discussion about modifying I-937, and the High Tech council, as they should, has been very upfront with their concerns about how I-937 impacts power costs, little has happened on the political front in Olympia.

Hydro power being classified as a renewable has been a prominent discussion point.

My thinking is classifying Hydro as a renewable makes minimal difference to our cost structure here in ClarkCounty.     Even if we could snap our fingers and modify I-937  tomorrow, the biggest unknown we have in our power equation is what prices BPA is going to charge us for their power.  We have a contract through 2028, so for 16 more years,  for about 2.2% of the entire BPA output,  So we know roughly how much we get, ( which should be a little over half our total supply) but we don’t know for what price.

Our wind power is fixed in cost for 20 years.  Natural gas currently is at historic lows, but most research points to it increasing as demand in the economy returns and it being a pretty stable price, so in many ways BPA hydro power is the most vulnerable part of our supply in terms of pricing.

With that as the back drop. I say let’s be pro active and focus on actions that we can more directly control.   I-937 requires Utilities to use all available conservation that is cost effective.     We’ve had strong residential programs since the mid 1980’s  Clark has a very active program working with Commercial and Industrial customers.   Let’s continue that work, with the goal of staying in compliance through managing our load growth.   In fact as Commissioner I would work at convincing my fellow comisisoners that Clark PUD shoudl be the leader among Northwest utilities in conservation  and energy efficiency.    Conservation and energy efficiency are accepted as being lower cost alternatives, so this should keep us with affordable and predicable power rates as we move through the next decade.

 

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