Published in The Oregonian
Editorial ducked the facts on PUD 'energy crisis'
The Oregonian — Guest Commentary
The Oregonian's Oct. 17 editorial, "Let's duck this energy crisis," provides a gloomy scenario for the region's energy future, should the measures proposing creation of a Multnomah County PUD pass in this coming election. To state that passage of these measures is the same as hanging out a sign stating that "free enterprise not welcome" is an astonishing statement for this newspaper to make, and clearly at odds with the facts. To intimate that a regulated monopoly, such as a privately owned electric utility, is "free enterprise" is a stretch, at best. Further, to imply that businesses would shun a public power community is an outright fantasy. On the contrary, businesses appreciate the lower prices and excellent service Oregon and Washington PUDs offer.
Certainly, you are correct that "the first steps will be taken in the courtroom." Four years ago, we found it necessary to take legal action to acquire Portland General Electric facilities, despite a vote where over 92 percent of the vote favored annexation of Rainier to the Clatskanie People's Utility District. I would suspect that Enron will provide a stiff opposition, should these ballot measures pass in Multnomah County. Historically, nearly all of the transitions from private power to publicly owned utilities have been long and somewhat painful experiences, unduly prolonged by private power, but worth the results.
One of your main points is that a PUD would only be able to acquire the utility's lines and poles. This statement is speculative, at best. It may be possible to acquire privately owned generation facilities, although it is not clear that acquisition would be in the best economic interest of a new utility. You further state that the (Multnomah County) PUD would be forced to buy virtually all of its electricity on a volatile open market. It is ironic to note that since the Enron bankruptcy and withdrawal from the wholesale electricity market, prices have not been volatile. Further, a good share of your power is now purchased on the wholesale market.
Yes, creating a public power company involves complex issues of governance, bond financing and rate structure. Literally thousands of publicly owned electric utilities have faced these same complexities over the years. The formula is fairly straight-forward: The electorate makes informed choices on their elected directors and the elected directors retain an experienced and competent management staff to run the utility, not totally unlike a regulated privately owned utility.
Publicly owned electric utilities around the country are successfully handling the many issues you worried about: managing access to power from the Federal Columbia River Power System, legal battles, acquiring distribution plant, financing, managing market purchases, and all the other complex affairs of an electric utility. At Clatskanie PUD, we have been doing this for over 60 years, providing highly reliable service at very low prices. Certainly the people of Multnomah County should be as capable as we are.
Greg Booth is general manager of the Clatskanie People's Utility District.