Clallam PUD candidates clash over power, water

Electricity and water issues along with purchase of the former Costco Wholesale building were at the forefront of Thursday's League of Women Voters debate at Sequim High School between incumbent Clallam County Public Utility District commissioner Hugh Haffner and challenger Bob Jensen.

Haffner, a bankruptcy attorney, has served on the Clallam PUD board for 14 years. Jensen is a partner in both Angeles Communications, and Capacity Provisioning Inc., which are telecommunications companies.

They are running for a six-year term on the three-person Clallam PUD board representing District 2, which stretches from Seventh Avenue in Sequim westward around the city of Port Angeles to roughly the Elwha River.

Jensen said electricity and water rates are increasing and that that money must be put back into ratepayers' hands.

He wants to have "smart meters" for everyone, not just the PUD's equipment or buildings, Jensen said. Clallam PUD also should be out in front on energy conservation, not the county, he said.

Haffner said he still is trying to get a refund of the excess $13 million that Bonneville took from the public utilities and gave to the investor-owned utilities as part of the residential exchange program.

Approved in 1980, the program provides investor-owned utilities such as Puget Sound Energy with benefits from the hydroelectric system by subsidizing their rates with money from public utilities such as Clallam PUD.

Public utilities sued over the amount of the subsidy and to get back the $13 million they were overcharged.

Haffner said the public utilities finally convinced the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to make Bonne-

ville return the money but now Bonneville is trying to keep it in the upcoming power sales contracts.

So the public utilities might have to sue Bonneville again, he said.

"The refund will go back to our customers," Haffner said.

Jensen said a lot of public utilities sued Bonneville, not just Clallam PUD.

"Absolutely" the money should be returned to the customers, he said.

Haffner said he is the only PUD commissioner in the state who also is an attorney and he's more involved in the Bonneville lawsuit than his opponent might realize.

Jensen said the city of Port Angeles is using only 30 percent of its water rights so Clallam PUD's water systems should be integrated so that that water can be shifted east to serve the Carlsborg area.

Integration of water systems is a great idea, he said.

Haffner said water can't be transferred from Port Angeles over to Carlsborg, the state Department of Ecology never would allow it.

The district has worked with the city of Port Angeles on water issues but there are problems with Ecology when you try transfering water to different areas, he said.

Clallam PUD also is talking with the state Department of Ecology about getting more water for the Carlsborg area and actually got some real response, he said.

"It's all about timing. You can't just drill a hole in the ground and get water. It's about banking, putting water away for later because you can't drill more wells," Haffner said.

Jensen said Clallam PUD needs a reservoir for when Morse Creek stream flows are low but the district is only building a reservoir east of Port Angeles because its water supply contract with the city of Port Angeles requires it.

The PUD should put its grant writer to work writing grants to help fund exploration of more water sources, he said.

The two candidates also clashed over the district's recent announcement of a purchase and sale agreement to buy the former Costco Wholesale building in Carlsborg for $3.8 million.

Jensen said he used to support buying the building but now believes the purchase won't save the district money and the

$5 million should be used instead to improve the district's infrastructure.

He would rather expand the Carlsborg Operations Center than spend $5 million buying that building, Jensen said.

"I'm not sure it's a savings. It's a poor decision but it still can be stopped," he said.

Haffner said when running a business you need to look to the future or else your capital projects make you a slave to whatever builders want to charge.

"We got a smoking deal and saved $2 million," he said.

Clallam PUD must plan out 25 years into the future, Haffner said, adding he always asks the cost difference between installing a 12-inch water pipe versus a 24-inch one.

Clallam PUD is governed by a three-person board of directors elected to six-year terms.

It has 130 employees who work in offices and shops in Sequim, Carlsborg, Port Angeles, Forks and Clallam Bay/Sekiu.

It serves about 28,500 electricity customers in Sequim, Forks and the unincorporated areas of Clallam County plus the Port Townsend Paper Corp. mill.

It also operates nine water systems that serve about 4,200 customers throughout the county: Fairview, Gales, Mount Angeles, Monroe, Carlsborg, Clallam, Panoramic, Evergreen and Island View.

The district also built a 24-mile fiber optic loop between Port Angeles and Sequim and operates a small sewer department with a 2008 budget of $26,120.

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