Public Power Council expels Clallam PUD

Issue: Jim Waddell, lower Snake River dams

Clallam County Public Utility District Commissioner Jim Waddell.

Clallam County Public Utility District Commissioner Jim Waddell.

Clallam County Public Utility District has been expelled from the Public Power Council after Commissioner Jim Waddell allegedly leaked information that led to protests in Portland, Ore.

Waddell was admonished by PUD General Manager Doug Nass and Chairman Will Purser in a virtual meeting on June 8. No formal action was taken by the board.

“I accept their expulsion, but not for the reasons they said,” Waddell said during a 74-minute discussion on the ouster.

“I had nothing to do with organizing the rally, the march and all that kind of stuff.”

Waddell, a Clallam County PUD commissioner since January 2019, has advocated for the removal of the four hydroelectric dams on the lower Snake River in Eastern Washington.

He has challenged the Public Power Council (PPC) and similar organizations that support keeping the dams.

Waddell is a retired U.S. Army Corps civil engineer who founded DamSense (www.damsense.org), which calls for the removal of the lower Snake River dams to save chinook salmon and the Southern Resident orcas that feed on them.

“The root cause of this problem is, Jim, you’re kind of obsessed with the Snake River dams,” Purser said during the three-hour PUD meeting.

“We’re spending too much time on this issue, and Jim, that’s because it is your central issue. You represent DamSense everywhere you go, and you should be representing this utility and our customers.”

Several speakers in a public comment period said they supported Waddell and his efforts.

The Port Angeles City Council co-signed a letter last week calling for the removal of the lower Snake River dams.

PPC is a Portland-based nonprofit that works to preserve and enhance the benefits of the federal Columbia River power system for publicly-owned utilities like Clallam County PUD, according to its mission statement. Its membership is drawn from seven western states, including Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Utah and Wyoming.

It focuses on hydroelectric dams and the Bonneville Power Administration rate-setting, revenue requirements and policies.

PPC Executive Committee Chairwoman Debra Smith and Executive Director Scott Simms signed a letter dated April 13 informing Nass that Clallam County PUD had been expelled from the organization.

“Sounds like a Dear John letter,” Purser said.

The letter, which Nass read aloud, said PPC had “serious concerns” about breaches of confidentiality and nondisclosure.

“You may have heard that protesters appeared outside of PPC’s March board meetings, making personal attacks on PPC staff and unnerving the guests coming to present to PPC members,” the letter stated.

“It was alarming, especially because the protesters had knowledge of the arrangements and information that PPC staff prepared exclusively for the PPC board as part of PPC’s quintessentially deliberative process.”

The letter said a Clallam County PUD representative later identified as Waddell had been the source of the disclosures that led to the protests.

“To be clear, the issue is not that any individual disagrees with PPC’s substantive work,” the letter said.

“The issue arises out of serious concerns that one of your representatives has demonstrated an unwillingness to treat PPC’s forums and materials in a confidential manner.”

Waddell said he had raised concerns about BPA’s finances in public meetings over the course of several years.

He said he sent a paper to PPC refuting its claim that the lower Snake River dams can produce 2,600 megawatts of peak power.

“That’s the same day, five hours later, we got this letter you just read expelling us from the PPC,” Waddell told Nass. “Gee, was that a coincidence? Or not.”

Waddell questioned why it was a secret that BPA Administrator Elliot Mainzer was scheduled to speak at a PPC meeting in March.

“If I’m guilty of that, fine, but an official talking at a public meeting is not supposed to be a secret,” Waddell said.

The PPC provided a $22,597 refund check to Clallam County PUD for its annual membership dues.

“We don’t need to use ratepayer money to pay money to an organization that fears external disclosure,” Waddell said.

“I think that’s really what’s at issue here.”

Clallam County PUD has no way to appeal the expulsion.

“It’s a done deal,” Purser said.

Purser, who had served on PPC’s executive committee, said the regional organization is not subject to the state Open Public Meetings Act or public records requests.

He said the PPC makes decisions based on data from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Bonneville Power Administration, federal Bureau of Reclamation and others.

“Your problem is you reject all of that data,” Purser told Waddell. “You’re the only one that has the real data, and they didn’t accept that.”

Purser, a longtime PUD commissioner and vice chair of the Energy Northwest executive board, said he was “embarrassed” by the expulsion from PPC.

PPC provides data analysis and negotiates wholesale electric rates with Bonneville on behalf of local public utilities, Purser said.

“If you expose those positions beforehand, then you’re putting them at a disadvantage,” Purser told Waddell.

“You’re putting us at a disadvantage.”

The PPC membership is composed of more than 90 PUDs, municipalities and electric co-ops, Nass said.

No local utility had been expelled from the PPC in its history, Purser said.

“I tried to talk them out of it,” Nass said.

“Eventually, the die was cast regarding our removal.”

PUD Commissioner David Anderson said he was “shocked” by the expulsion from PPC.

“I guess I was shocked that there wasn’t more deliberation somewhere along the line,” Anderson said.

“It seemed to come out of the blue.”

Nass said the Northwest Power and Conversation Council, Northwest Power Pool, Public Generating Pool, NW Energy Coalition, Northwest River Partners, Public Power Council and BPA have each concluded that the Snake River dams should stay.

“This is hard to ignore,” Nass said.

NW Energy Coalition spokesman Sean O’Leary said the coalition had not concluded the dams should stay.

“In fact, the NW Energy Coalition strongly supports a regionally-based, comprehensive, and balanced solution to restore endangered species with all options — including lower Snake River dam removal — considered on their merits,” O’Leary said in an email.

More than 30 PUDs, municipalities and co-ops have passed resolutions to support the lower Snake River dams, Nass said.

“The LSRDs are not my only thing,” Waddell said, referring to the lower Snake River dams.

“That’s not the reason I exist, or the only thing I’m going to talk about. But it is an issue that has been brought up through various mechanisms, including some of our own people, ratepayers that suggested that we address this issue.”

Peter Vanderhoof, one of several who testified in favor of removing the Snake River dams, said he floated the lower Snake River before the dams were built in the 1960s.

“I strongly recommend that you people look at and read and think about the data that Jim has apparently provided you with,” Vanderhoof said.

“There is a cost to all the customers in the supply grid area for maintaining those dams, which are not really doing anything except killing fish. The warming of the waters is lethal to the fish.”

Earlier in the meeting, Waddell had accused Nass of “reading the script” for Northwest River Partners and PPC.

“I am bringing up government information that hundreds of people support,” Waddell said.

“The problem is is we’ve got this group — PPC is one of them and River Partners is another one — that they have a fixation on keeping dams at all costs.”

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