I endorse Julia Anderson for PUD Comissioner

The Columbian and the Vancouver Business Journal  had recent  articles on the Clark Public Utilities race.  You can access them by clicking the links above.

Since I was  a candidate for this position in the Primary,  I have my own perspective and wanted to weigh in with why this is such an important race and that I am  supporting Julia Anderson.

First – Clark Public Utilities is the only local government agency that directly serves every home and every business in Clark County.   They interact with every resident, every city, Clark County, and every other Governing Board and Agency that operates within our county.   They are in many ways partners with  the State of Washington and the Federal Government in implementing our State and National energy strategies.   It will take a person of broad vision to understand the numerous issues that impact our PUD.

In that Primary election  I got a chance to meet and get to know all the candidates.  One of  my  conclusions;  Jim Malinowski is a good man who has provided good service to this community.  I don’t think any of us are going to argue that he has a better command of Utility operational and technical issues than the entire rest of the field.  Certainly that is the foundation he based his candidacy on.

However one of the reasons I ran for the position is I feel exactly as Julia Anderson does. A technical or engineering background is not the primary or  most important qualification to be a Commissioner.  If that was the case, wouldn’t we also want a highly technical engineering oriented person as the Utility’s CEO as well?   Running a 380 million dollar a year – 300 employee, 183,000 customer base  business takes much broader skills and vision.

Second – all of the Candidates in the primary, and particularly Jim Malinowski agreed  that managing the PUD would be more complex in the futureThose complexities extend to issues far beyond the operational and technical aspects of the Utility.  They cover a range of human resources, regulatory &  legislative issues, environmental and security challenges along with fundamental business strategies.

Here are several specific areas I’ve identified as  vital, that are part of our increasingly complex future. These do not fall under the technical umbrella and will be faced by our next Commissioner:

  • Succession planning and talent development of our senior and mid level PUD executive staff.
  • Building effective relationships with our South West Washington  legislative delegation to effectively manage the I-937 legislation and the Washington State Energy Strategy.
  • Understanding the legislative and regulatory process and its impact on CPU.
  • Learning how to communicate with Congress and regulatory agencies with effective messaging to ensure our interests are served.
  • Building political alliances and relationships with the seven cities, three ports,ClarkCounty, the State of Washingtonand the Federal Government.
  • Being an advocate and communicating to the citizens of  Clark County the Vision and Mission of the PUD.
  • Understanding the implementation of Dodd- Frank legislation.
  • Cyber security risks and implementing new Homeland security polices.

Third- the reality of our situation is fifty percent of our energy costs are direct charges from BPA, or costs that we have little ability to control, such as our long term  wind contracts or transmission costs.  It won’t matter how technically qualified any of us are, we’ll pay  rates the BPA determines for us.  We may a couple of options, but the differences won’t be significant.

The future of natural gas prices, our ability to manage our annual Maintenance and Operations budgets, and the management of our debt load will be the primary  variables we can manage to limit increases of our future rates.  Perhaps we should elect an HR manager  or a commodities trader who’ll have a good background in futures hedging ?

On Jim’s website he talks about an area he feels he can  impact. “ Management of electric and gas market operations is where there is the most opportunity to avoid rate increases and rate instability. I believe that there is room for significant improvement in that area by better forecasting of future electric and gas market pricing.”

Forecasting of weather, power usage,  economic cycles, and natural gas markets,  is a very challenging,  sophisticated and time intensive process that is well beyond the expertise of any Commissioner, and will be handled by a talented PUD staff.

Fourth – it’s not as if our Commissioners don’t have resources to be educated on the issues that face our PUD.  Organizations like Northwest Public Power Association have curriculums that help leaders develop skills and expertise in all aspects of utility operations.  Commissioners on a regular basis attend conferences to avail themselves of training and workshops to continually expand their knowledge of the industry.

Certainly any new Commissioner will have a steep learning curve in their first year.   Having personally attended ten  Commission meetings, spent countless hours studying PUD reports and interviewing PUD staff, I understand the magnitude of the effort it will take from  a Commissioner to be properly informed on these broader range issues

The  factor that will most determine who makes a good Commissioner will be which of these individuals is willing to  invest the time to attend these training sessions, read  and absorb the steady flow of information and bring it back to the commission and the public to  share in a coherent way.

This is an area where I believe Julia will be far more effective than Jim.

Look at her website – Elect Julia Anderson.com. Clearly she has done a ton of research, has read broadly on energy issues and has the ability to communicate in an effective manner.

Fifth- this is a six year position, serving from January 2013 through December 2018.

During that time it is likely this position will serve as the Board Chair for two or possibly more years.   The responsibilities of the Chair are even more significant- working closely with the CEO to set the meeting Agenda’s and lead the Board.

Also highly probable  that during this term  the PUD will face retirement of their CEO and  other members of their senior executive team. Hiring of the CEO is the number one responsibility of the Board , and will be a huge task.   Considering the unpredictable  nature of political Boards, this Commissioner may need to mentor one or two new Commissioners during their tenure as well.

Jim Malinowski, rightly  is leading with his strengths when he talks about his engineering background.  If we were in a situation where we didn’t have highly talented, technical experienced staff, or where there was some major trust or competency issues with the PUD facing us, I could see where Jim’s expertise would be critical to the Board.

He has been proven correct that the River Road  Natural Gas  plant was a very expensive decision for our PUD. However I don’t see any similar decisions on the horizon that will have as major a rate  impact during this next term.  Jim  is mostly appealing to our vision of decisions we made in the past .

As Jamie Howsley  said in referencing the BIA endorsement of Julia, – she is proactive. If you read her website, and listen to her at candidate forums it is clear Julia Anderson  is talking about the Future.  That’s the direction I want us to look, why I voted for Julia and ask you to do the same.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

About 

Jim West is a Commercial Realtor in Vancouver Washington. His specialty is helping local companies Stop Leasing! and Own their business property. He also works as a Tenant Representative - assisting companies to locate and negotiate a successful Lease for their business operations. He has a public workshop series called Commercial Property Success Series.

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