Public service commissioner candidates take part in forum ahead of primary elections

Rick Bannan / [email protected]

An environmentalist and industry veteran is seeking to oust the longtime commissioner from one of three seats on the Clark Public Utilities Board of Commissioners.

At the July 6 forum hosted by the Clark County League of Women Voters, incumbent Nancy Barnes took on challengers Carol Dillin and Don Steinke. The trio were asked about utility operations and how they plan for the county’s energy future.

During his decades-long career teaching physics, Steinke said he understood the impacts of greenhouse gases on climate change. He added that he had been attending CPU meetings for the past seven years.

“The clean energy transition will create millions of jobs and opportunities for small businesses nationwide, and these benefits could accrue to Clark County if our PUD commission supports the transition,” Steinke said.

Dillin said she had always been a customer advocate when she held leadership positions at Portland General Electric. She said she supported new technologies such as advanced metering infrastructure that could save customers money.

Barnes said his priority has always been and will continue to be utility customers.

“Our rates, among the lowest in the country, have not been increased in 12 years,” Barnes said. “Our electricity is reliable. … You won’t have brownouts or blackouts.

She said the district is complying with “stringent state mandates” for environmental mitigation.

Rate relief and workforce diversity

Dillin noted that the processor had halted its disconnects during the pandemic. Although they have since resumed, she said it was done with “great dignity”.

Although the utility has not offered rate increases in more than a decade, she said overall cost increases outside the utility have led to pressure to increase investment, which could lead to a “price shock” when these investments have to be made. .

Barnes stressed the importance of keeping rates low while complying with state mandates on environmental concerns. She noted that the CPU does not tax those within its jurisdiction, but rather charges tariffs on the use of public services.

“Beware of people who promise to start doing programs and they don’t tell you how we’re going to pay for them or what it’s going to cost,” Barnes said. “I can’t ask someone who lives in an apartment or rents a townhouse to pay more on their basic electric bill so that someone in a nice house can pay less for their solar panels. on his roof or his EV chargers in his garage.”

Steinke said population growth requires more electricity, but state requirements ensure that any utility expansions use clean energy. He said an expansion in the use of non-fossil fuel resources will allow for greater electricity generation, and therefore revenue, for the utility.

“We have no choice but to choose the most cost-effective clean energy resources,” Steinke said.

He added that the current solution is solar power with batteries. Steinke said thousands of batteries will need to be installed each year.

Steinke said the utility should “actively recruit people from across the community” for apprenticeship programs, especially for heat pump systems in large commercial buildings and schools.

“We need more diversity, but we also need more jobs with fairness,” Steinke said.

Supporting a concept of broad diversity within the ranks of public service leadership, Dillin noted that those who work on the front lines of public service do so in a risky environment.

“People don’t always come home from work. They can be killed,” Dillin said. “I want to make sure there is respect in the work environment, that there is inclusion. People have the right to fair wages, but they also have the right to be safe where they work.

Barnes said the trilingual nature of current CPU services, in English, Russian and Spanish, was intended to be more inclusive. She said it provides access to all of the utility’s conservation, energy efficiency and income support programs.

The future of energy

Dillin said removing any fossil fuel infrastructure will take time.

“I hear a lot of people say pull the gas, let’s go green, but you have to be careful about deciding what’s next,” Dillin said.

Barnes said the utility has budgeted $30 million to replace all meters in the county with meters that allow for “two-way communication” on hourly and hourly usage rates. She said the goal of the project is to provide better control of energy consumption.

Barnes said the utility has considered adding more “carbon-free” power to its portfolio by working with other agencies.

Steinke said the Northwest Power and Conservation Council said the region will need at least three gigawatts of renewable energy over the next five years. He supports wind power and electric vehicles, “but the incumbent has disparaged them,” Steinke said.

During the conversation, Steinke and Barnes fired at each other focusing on their difference of opinion on environmental concerns.

“I bear no resemblance to the person Mr. Steinke keeps describing,” Barnes said.

She said the utility was working to convert the Lower River Road fossil-fuel plant from a “baseload” plant to a variable plant that adapts resources such as solar and wind power.

“This plant has been in operation and has been of great value to Clark County since 1994,” Barnes said. Steinke said last year that the plant “produced 80 tons of nitrogen dioxide, 35 times more soot, four tons of sulfur dioxide and 15 tons of pollution classified as toxic or dangerous.” He said there were many instances where the plant was operating “not because we needed the power, but because they could sell the power in the market at a profit”.

Dillin is not in favor of the “rushed” closure of fossil fuel-fired facilities.

“I have a green hat because I want a cleaner, greener future, but I also want reliability for customers,” Dillin said. “I just think there has to (be) some balance and consideration.”

The top two candidates after the August 2 primary election deadline will face each other in the November general election.

All recordings from the various Clark County League of Women Voters nomination forums are available for on-demand viewing online at cvtv.org.

Melvin B. Baillie