Views are set on city power | In Our Opinion

  • Thursday, June 8, 2017 7:49am
  • Opinion

Here we are, just where we thought we’d be.

And it’s no surprise, of course.

Last month, Puget Sound Energy released a report from Concentric Energy Advisors, a Massachusetts-based consultant company that was hired to run the numbers on what it would cost for the city of Bainbridge Island to take over PSE’s power system on the island and set up its own municipal electric company.

Concentric Energy Advisors’s verdict: The endeavor could cost upward of $146.8 million, with acquisition costs alone amounting to $109.1 million.

That analysis follows one done by consultants for the city of Bainbridge Island. D. Hittle &Associates has also put together a study of what it would cost to start a power company. D. Hittle’s estimate, from a final version of their study, put the price tag at $62.4 million.

The city council is planning to get a presentation on the D. Hittle study at the council’s meeting on Tuesday, June 6. At that meeting, public comment will not be taken. Instead, only PSE and Island Power, the group pushing for a city electric utility, will get a chance to weigh in on the D. Hittle study.

Any members of the public who want to talk to the council will have to wait until the June 13 meeting. That may prove to be a long evening, as there are many opponents of a city power company, as well as a number of others who are supportive of the idea.

What will islanders say of the D. Hittle study, or (though the city doesn’t seem interested enough to ask) the one from Concentric? It’s certain they will find flaws in the study that challenges their view, and positive points in the analysis that does.

Even so, neither study will move the needle on public opinion of a city-run power company. Public opinion on this proposal is already hardwired, and it’s due to two issues that neither study could explore.

First is the competency issue, and whether islanders are comfortable with city hall setting electricity rates, restoring power when the big winds blow, and general management of the utility. The city’s storied history of utility management need not be repeated here.

The other is the pocketbook issue. Do residents want the city to go millions of dollars into debt for such a project, with little guarantee of lower rates or greener power?

We already know how many islanders are willing to pay more for clean power (through PSE’s green power program): just 10 percent, or about 1,230 customers. That’s about the same number who signed the petition calling for a public vote, but not enough for success at the ballot box.

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