Bainbridge council won’t send PSE takeover to ballot box

The Bainbridge Island City Council has pulled the plug on the idea to create a city-run power company.

Council members voted unanimously at their meeting Tuesday against sending a measure to the ballot box that would seek voter approval for a takeover of Puget Sound Energy’s electric system on the island.

A group of islanders has been pushing the idea of a Bainbridge-run electric company for years and had lobbied for a public vote on the proposal last year.

Instead, the city council hired the consultant firm D. Hittle & Associates to prepare a feasibility analysis on the proposal before sending the idea to voters.

Last week, officials from D. Hittle presented their completed study, which estimated that a city takeover of much of PSE’s assets on the island, and creating a city-run power company, would cost $62.4 million.

This week’s decision was not unexpected. Some on the council wanted to vote to shelve the idea of a city-run power company last week, but officials deferred until this week’s meeting because public comment on the D. Hittle study had been pushed back to June 13.

Mayor Val Tollefson asked his fellow council members at last week’s meeting to table talk on a city power company for the rest of 2017, but others on the council said that decision should wait until the public had one more chance to offer input.

Council members said Tuesday there was not enough public support for a city-run power company to gain approval at the ballot box, after some in the audience noted that the fiscal future of a city power company over the next 20 years would be uncertain as the city worked to retire the debt caused by the takeover.

Public opinion remains divided on creating a Bainbridge-based power company, with some islanders touting the advantages of local control of the electric utility, and others saying it was a costly gamble that would not lead to lower rates, and asked city leaders to focus instead on other priorities.

PSE officials have repeatedly said they would not willingly sell their electric system on Bainbridge Island, and a study commissioned by PSE put the price tag of starting a Bainbridge electric utility at $146.8 million.

Many at Tuesday’s meeting asked the city to work cooperatively with PSE to work on issues raised during the municipal power debate, such as increasing reliability and the move to cleaner sources of energy.

Council members voted 6-0 to stop consideration of a PSE takeover; Councilman Kol Medina was not at the meeting.

“It’s been obvious for over a year we don’t have that support,” said Councilman Ron Peltier.

Most who spoke at Tuesday’s meeting voiced opposition to the proposal, and public comment stretched until 9 p.m.

Some asked that the council put off any future consideration of the idea for five years or more.

Council members declined to do that, but noted the proposal for municipal power was not one that they expected to resurface soon.

“This council is not going to advance this issue,” Tollefson said.

“As far as this council is concerned, it’s not going forward,” he said.