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Public Power is on the ballot– now the real work begins!

Congratulations Thurston County! As you probably already heard, public power is on the November ballot. We blew past the 10,734 signatures needed and turned in over 15,000 signatures to the County Auditor, who certified the Initiative without even looking at the last 2,002 signatures!

Now it’s a battle between a 99% of Davids and one corporate Goliath. Thurston County gets a choice: continuing to pay Puget Sound Energy to maintain their monopoly on electric power; or transitioning to a future when Thurston Public Utility District (TPUD) gradually assumes responsibility for the county’s electricity.

How do you feel about paying one of the highest electrical rates in the state? Do you want to continue renting your electricity from a foreign owner, who in 2011 pumped over $17,000,000 in profits out of our county to their Bellevue headquarters and beyond? How will you feel next winter when a storm takes out the power lines again by tree branches that a PUD would have trimmed but that PSE didn’t, and we wait while contract workers arrive slowly from far away?

The actual ballot initiative this November is very simple. A “Yes” vote on the Public Power Initiative authorizes TPUD to enter into the electrical business. That’s it. An affirmative vote does not tell the PUD how or when to provide electric service, other than the requirement to provide some kind of service within ten years. The vote does not authorize a tax or mandate any particular kind of service.

What kind of electric service could the PUD provide? As a new electric public utility TPUD would have access to cheap federal hydropower, available in lumps over several years. At first there might be 50 megawatts of BPA power available, out of a total demand of roughly 350 megawatts for the County. There are a wide range of possibilities for serving us with that first installment of power, such as serving one large business, the Capital Campus, or the South County. TPUD has hired a consultant to explore potential opportunities. The PUD will issue a final report in August, and plans to hold a public workshop in September.

A common question is how TPUD will pay for taking over electric services. The answer is simple: they can use municipal bonds just like any other PUD, or like cities and counties. The interest rates on these bonds are far lower than the 10% return that the Washington UTC allows PSE to pay their investors. And the PUD can access grants only available to public agency. These advantages will typically offset a potentially high cost of acquisition.

With an electrified PUD we will join the more than half of Washington State who already are served by a system owned by its citizens. Electricity is a natural monopoly—there is only one set of lines going into your home or business—and we want the people to own it.

Public power means the end of paying for huge profits because our only option is to either go off the grid or go dark. Public power will keep most of that money in the economy where it can multiply, add jobs, give us local control, and invest in our future.

You will reap the many benefits of public power, and your children and grandchildren will benefit even more. One example: the city of Hermiston, Oregon assumed control of its electrical system in 2001. After only six years the typical customer paid 25% less than if they were still paying the previous private utility, while the city built a significant financial reserve for future improvements and possible emergency repairs. We want to do the same here in Thurston County.

Most of the people who manage and maintain PSE’s system live and work outside Thurston County. That’s one of the reasons it takes so long for the power to come back on. With public power, those people will all work in the county and most will live here. That means local living wage jobs, local control, and local accountability—imagine personally knowing the person responsible for making sure your power stays on in a storm and restoring it quickly if it goes out. This is only one the reasons 95% of the people in our neighboring public power counties had their power back within 24 hours last January.

A vote for public power and its local accountability means you can go to the TPUD meetings and let them know that you want more “green” energy and less coal energy. Did you know that PSE uses Washington wind farms to power California and Montana coal to power Washington? Over 54% of the power PSE generates is from burning coal and California pays a premium for renewable energy. That’s why PSE is very busy “greenwashing” with free light bulbs and an opt-in program that lets you help them pay for what the state says they must do under Initiative 937—all without adding one green watt to what we get. On the other hand, imagine what TPUD, which doesn’t have to make a profit for its investors, could do with renewable, distributed generation.

To fight this initiative, PSE has hired high-powered political consultants and a celebrity spokesman. They are pouring money into an “Astroturf” political group headed by several local has-been politicians. They are paying for advertising and robo-calls. In 2008 PSE poured a half a million dollars into the three small counties seeking public power authority. Imagine what they’ll spend in the State’s capital county.

How do we fight back? They have money power, but we have people power. Almost a hundred volunteers fanned out through the county to collect the signatures to put the initiative on the ballot. Now we need even more volunteers to raise money, organize events, make phone calls, put out yard signs, and canvass neighborhoods.

How can you help? Please go to where you can:

Make a donation

Find out more about how to volunteer

Click on the FAQ button for more information and details on the points raised above.

Talk to your friends and neighbors, tell them the public power story, and ask for their help.

And if you have a question, email us at, or send a note to PO Box 7624, Olympia 98507-7624.

Vote “Yes” for public power. Your future depends on it.

Paul Pickett is a former Thurston PUD Commissioner. John Pearce is Chair of the Thurston Public Power Initiative.

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