PUD election candidates see opportunities for the utility
2022 Primary Election
SNOHOMISH COUNTY — A seat up for election on the PUD’s board to represent Snohomish, Monroe, Lake Stevens and much of east county has three contenders.
Incumbent Toni Olson says she provides the steady hand and experience on the three-person board.
Candidate Jordan Sears says it’s time for someone new.
Candidate Ken Maertens did not respond to phone calls or an email to the Tribune’s interview questions.
Ballots are due Aug. 2 for the primary.
Sears answered by email. Olson was interviewed by phone.
Both see positives for the next 10 years.
“I see a vision to have a grid ready for transportation and better storage for energy” with satellite solar arrays in different parts of the county that feed to battery storage centers “to offset the need to buy off the market,” Olson said.
She believes the utility can get to being close to 100% carbon-free. “We’re 96-97% carbon-free and we’re going to get to 100%, we’re going to get there,” Olson said.
Olson said she wants the PUD ahead of the curve on electric vehicle charging. “I really believe a backbone system of chargers around the PUD service territory would best serve the customers.”
Sears stakes a long-term vision that he says should be “bold, but simple,” he said by email. “We need a commission that paves the way for the rest of the state by rejoining the Washington State PUD Association (WaPUDA) when it comes to green energy and jobs” and engage high school students to show the PUD has good, union jobs, he wrote.
“We also need to be investing in other forms of alternate energy and storage sources (like hydrogen power),” Sears wrote.
The Snohomish PUD appears to be considering opening a fiber network service to be the backbone for local broadband internet service. Fifteen other county PUDs in Washington state, mostly rural, already do telecommunications as a business division alongside power or water. State law prevents utilities from being a consumer’s internet provider, akin to Comcast or Ziply, but can lease its network lines for companies to expand service.
Sears wants the PUD to do it. “We must expand into public broadband. This will allow for lower income and rural people (many of which are in the 3rd) to have access to the internet,” he wrote.
Olson described the PUD getting into broadband an opportunity. She said she wants to hear more details soon about the utility’s plans before committing her vote.
Olson wants to see the PUD help show its relevance to people’s lives is more than bills and power outages.
Sears, in his campaign statement, says he will directly engage with people and fight for the rights of working class families.
Olson is excited by the PUD’s smart meter system that comes online next year. For one, it will let people analyze their power use by fragments of time to see when they use electricity most.
Both support having the PUD invest in expanding its power grid.
“We shouldn’t have to rely on things like the Lower Snake river dams and other state/federal facilities. We should be expanding our solar fields and investing in research and development into other forms of energy,” Sears said by email.
The PUD says it purchases about 80 percent of its power from the federally controlled Bonneville Power Administration currently.
“I don’t want to be building any more dams, but I want to be more self-reliant, whether it’s batteries or solar storage,” Olson said. Hydroelectric dams only generate at certain times of the year. “The utility’s tested a lot of locations and the cost, to me, is not worth it,” Olson said.
Both Olson and Sears said they support the PUD Commission’s decision to authorize a base fee on residential bills which began in the spring. Both said it gives steady revenue while lowering individual bills in the long run.
Olson retired as the assistant general manager of the PUD and in 2004 won election to a board seat and is running on her experience.
“I find it interesting still and doggone it I like being a public servant,” Olson said.
Sears is Mayor Pro Tem on the Gold Bar City Council.
Maertens is a mechanical engineer for Lockheed Martin’s Bothell facility who served in the U.S. Navy, his biography says.
The election is for a 6-year term. The PUD covers 2,200 square miles, including all of Snohomish County and Camano Island.
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