Change the guard, choose Wright for Franklin PUD

October 12, 2010 

Power costs more if you buy it from Franklin County PUD than any of its neighboring providers.

Even after rate cuts in 2007 and 2008, it remains some of the most expensive electricity in the state.

That's a little troubling.

Even more disconcerting is that incumbent PUD Commissioner Chuck Hall told us he doesn't know why the rates are so high.

It's pretty hard to keep rates under control if you don't know why they're high to start with.

That's one of the main reasons we're recommending a change on the board.

Challenger Roger Wright has done his homework when it comes to rates' causes and effects.

He has been regularly attending the commissioners meetings since spring, and he has read the minutes from earlier meetings.

As a civil engineer, he has several years' experience working with public utilities on housing developments and commercial projects.

Wright believes poor choices by the current and previous commissions contributed to the problem. He cites as one example the PUD building and keeping a $34 million gas-fired power plant that has only been used for about 24 hours.

The decision to build that plant was made before Hall's tenure on the board, but in the years since, the PUD has continued to carry a contract to supply fuel for that plant. Until 2009 that contact was costing $1 million a year, even though the plant was never in use.

Wright also is critical of the board's recent decision to extend the PUD's broadband reach to Connell at a cost of $2 million. The PUD should have conducted a better analysis of the project before committing the money, he said.

We agree that some of the PUD decisions have been questionable, but some of the most worrisome -- buying a gas-fired plant, for example -- occurred before Hall's tenure.

And frankly, Hall was a good choice to help bring some unity and calm to what had been a contentiously divided board of commissioners.

But Wright is better suited to help lead the utility through what's certain to be a difficult near-term future. In our judgment, he'll provide some oversight of PUD operations with a critical -- but reasonable -- eye.

Franklin PUD buys nearly all its power from Bonneville Power Administration, which has announced rates increases for next October. The size of the increase hasn't been determined, but it appears it will be significant.

The Franklin PUD currently carries a $25 million reserve fund. After the increases, that fund will dwindle quickly without a rate increase.

Another big factor is Initiative 937, the voter-approved measure requiring utilities to purchase more renewable energy.

The rapidly changing energy picture for public power will require strong leadership. We see that in Wright.

The Tri-City Herald recommends Roger Wright for Franklin PUD commissioner, Pos. 1.

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