Lights out for public electric utility on Bainbridge

The island's two-year flirtation with a publicly-owned electric utility came to an end Tuesday night.

The City Council voted 6-0 to end consideration of setting up such a utility, but directed City Manager Doug Schulze to work with Puget Sound Energy to find ways to improve power reliability on the island and to reduce the island's carbon footprint.

Residents packed the chambers for Tuesday's council meeting, and most of those who spoke opposed a public utility. Many called for continued pressure on PSE for improvements.

“I think it’s time to set this aside and work with PSE to see what we can do to further our goals,” Councilman Ron Peltier said. “I think there is a lot of agreement in this room about what we want to do. I think there is a lot of concern about our carbon footprint, reliability. I think it’s time for us to come together and get past what’s been a very divisive issue.”

“At least as far as this council is considered, it’s not moving forward,” Mayor Val Tollefson said. Tollefson said he voted against the idea because of the other many other priorities on the city’s comprehensive plan agenda and the economic risk posed by the project.

At least for the near future, the decision marks the end of a slew of community discussions, meetings and presentations around the contentious topic. The city has been considering the idea since 2015, after a group of citizens collected signatures asking city officials to explore dumping PSE for a municipal utility.

Island Power, the public power advocacy group on the island, cited PSE’s outage record on the island, the possibility of greater local control over a city utility, and a public utility’s ability to access cleaner energy, as reasons for the city to take over electric service on the island.

Island Power spokesman Steve Johnson said he was disappointed in the council’s decision.

“Every great cause doesn’t win first time around,” he said. “Puget Sound Energy never really addressed the real reasons for this. They’re the dirtiest of all the utilities. Their reliability, they’re the worst. Suspending this thing, there’s the leverage.”

PSE maintained throughout the process that it was not for sale on Bainbridge Island. Separate studies commissioned by both the city and PSE indicated the process for taking over the utility’s island infrastructure would take a multimillion condemnation or negotiation process that could stretch out for several years.

Now without the possibility of having its infrastructure taken, PSE vice president Andy Wappler said the company is ready to move ahead to talking about ways it can improve.

“We know that reliability matters, we know clean energy matters,” he said. “To have an opportunity to have a community that’s really engaged with how we can be better, that’s really exciting for us."

© 2017 KING-TV


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