Opinion

Open letter to the Bainbridge Island City Council | GUEST OPINION

BY KIRSTEN HYTOPOULOS

I moved to Bainbridge Island to be part of a community with a reputation for environmental stewardship. And one of the reasons I served on the city council was to make sure that that our city continued to be worthy of that distinction.

We’ve had some notable wins – but your recent decision on green power was not one of them.

When you considered the question of whether to make a commitment to 100 percent green power, you were not considering a line item contribution to a “feel good” cause. You were making a significant consumer choice. And you were making that decision in the name of our community.

Power is a product that you must purchase to run the city, and the only source available for this product – Puget Sound Energy – has a monopoly on that product.

Unfortunately, PSE’s standard energy mix includes a coal power from the dirtiest power plant in the West.

The Colstrip plant, owned in part by PSE, has been ranked by the EPA as the eighth largest contributor to greenhouse gases in the U.S. and the number one in the West.

Fortunately, PSE has given us a choice: Do we want to continue to buy, use and support dirty power, or clean power? Ethical power, or unethical power?

When you elected to buy less than 100 percent of your power from green sources, you made a decision to continue to support PSE’s use of coal. You decided that saving an additional $11k on your $350k power bill was mort important than taking a stand against the true costs of coal power.

The real cost of this cheaper power goes beyond climate change. It threatens the lives and livelihoods of the ranchers, farmers and families that live in and around Colstrip, Mont.

When I testified on behalf of our city at the UTC on PSE's plan to rely on coal for 20 more years, I listened to testimony from doctors, activists and lawmakers who had traveled from Montana to plead with our lawmakers to stop supporting the poisoning of their land, air and water.

The 500 acres of ponds of toxic sludge surrounding the plant have been known to be leaking for over a decade into the adjacent groundwater. The Montana Department of Environmental Quality estimates that leakage at least 1.7 million gallons per week.

As I said to the UTC commissioners, I would hope that their obligation to ensure our utilities are not only reliable and fairly priced, but safe, extends to human lives.

Hopefully, you are all aware that the UTC recently sent PSE back to the drawing board on its 20-year plan, questioning the continued investment in the Colstrip plant.

I buy 100 percent of my power through the green power program. I spent $25 this month on green power. I’m just one single mother of three living in a very modest house. I think my city can do better than $250 a month.

The Bellingham City Council voted to buy 100 percent green power in 2007 and were the EPA No. 1-certified green powered community in the U.S. three years in a row.  Better late than never for our city to join other cities like Bellingham and the thousands of individual citizens and businesses that have made this important commitment.

I urge you to reconsider your vote on this matter. Committing to 100 percent green power will:

Demonstrate the leadership your community has asked for and that the staff showed in bringing the proposal forward;

Be consistent with the position the city has already taken against PSE's reliance on coal;

Be consistent with the council’s commitment to bringing green businesses to the island;

Provide support for our lawmakers and regulators higher up in their decisions about the future of energy production in Washington;

Respect the health, safety and wellbeing of our neighbors in Montana;

Create demand for green power, which means more green jobs; and

Demonstrate a commitment to address climate change, arguably the most important issue facing our planet and which the city has done little to address.

Thank you.

Kirsten Hytopoulos is a former Bainbridge city councilwoman.

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