Why I’m Going to the PSE Hearing

The Road to Resilience

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Like many of you, I’ve tended to be fairly satisfied with our sources of electric power here in the Northwest.  After all, we live in the land of cheap and abundant renewable hydropower.  Our utility, Puget Sound Energy (PSE), has always encouraged us to be more efficient with our energy use:  to insulate and seal our homes and buy more efficient appliances. They also offer subsidies and rebates to do that.  At our house, we have opted for the Green Energy Purchase.  The state requires PSE to provide renewable carbon-free energy to match the total amount of energy delivered to their Green Energy Purchasers.  Nobody can determine where any particular kilowatt of energy originated once it is in the grid, but we know that renewable energy equal to what we use is entering the grid somewhere.

If you have been reading your local papers lately, you will know that PSE is being scrutinized by the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission (UTC) with respect to certain elements of their current IRP.  An IRP, or Integrated Resource Plan, is an operational plan for the next twenty years that PSE is required to submit every 2 years to the UTC.  Even though PSE is a private company, they have a license with the state to operate as a monopoly in their service area and, therefore, need to submit to public scrutiny.  Right now, the UTC is holding public hearings to help form their recommendations concerning PSE’s current IRP.  (When there are this many acronyms, you know you are getting into serious government matters.)

As citizens, we have begun to scrutinize them as well.  In the land of abundant hydropower, we find that 59% of our PSE power comes from coal and gas.  The IRP calls for phasing out the 4 coal plants they now operate and replacing them with new sources.  Two of the coal plants are scheduled to close in 2022.  The other two, as it stands now, will be inexplicably extended until as late as 2035 even though they will be paid for and expendable by 2027.  The mine that supplies coal to these plants will be depleted, and to extend plant operation further will require that the mine be expanded at great environmental cost.  Their reasoning for extending the life of these plants is mystifying.
As we read further into their plans, we find that they want to replace those plants with “cleaner” natural gas.  It is true that gas burns cleaner than coal, but if you factor in leakage during extraction and transport, the greenhouse effect is worse than coal.

This transition to new energy infrastructure is a huge opportunity for us to invest in 100% clean renewable wind and solar power.  In the last few years, costs for solar have dropped 40%, wind, 66%.  They are now competitive or cheaper than fossil fuel plants. Could it be that the gas plant is cheaper to operate?  PSE charges us more for power now than most other utilities in the state that use 97% renewable energy.  There doesn’t seem to be any economic or scientific rationale for PSE’s plan to build a natural gas power plant.

It begins to make sense when we see that PSE is owned by the Macquarie Consortium of Australia, which holds the fourth largest natural gas production and distribution company in the US.  We find also that the CEO of PSE, Kimberly Harris, has just been named Chairperson of the American Gas Association.  Could there be a conflict of interest here?
This is a very important decision point for us and for PSE.  We badly need to transition to renewable energy, the transition is economically and technologically feasible, and PSE is at a place where new investment needs to occur.  They will saddle us with a gas plant that we will be paying on for the next 30-40 years even though the climate crisis and a carbon tax may make the plant uneconomical or inoperable.  As PSE is a monopoly provider and a private company, we have only one way to influence PSE plans and our energy future, and that is to influence the UTC Commissioners at this upcoming hearing.  This absolutely requires massive public participation, both by submitting comments and by actually attending and testifying at the hearing.  I’ve attended one of these preliminary hearings, and I can attest to the effect of our influence on these commissioners.  This is a watershed moment when we can help avert catastrophic climate change.  That is why I have submitted comments and will be testifying at the hearing as well.  I strongly recommend that you do likewise.  There is seldom a time when so little effort on your part can have such a dramatic effect.

You can submit comments by going to www.indivisiblevashon.org/cfletter or regular mail to: PO Box 47250, 1300 South Evergreen Park Drive SW, Olympia, WA 98504-7250.  Be sure to state that your comments refer to dockets:  UE-160918 and UG-160919.  The hearing will be on Wednesday, Feb. 21, 1:30-7 pm at 7115 Maple Valley Hwy, Renton, WA.  There will be a rally prior to the hearing at 12 noon at the same address.  Car and vanpooling will be available at the high school.  The rally caravan leaves at 10 am and the hearing-only caravan leaves at 11:10.  If you are interested in carpooling, please email CarbonFreeVashon@gmail.com or contact Ward Carson 206 715 1330.

Comments?  terry@vashonloop.com