Puget Sound Energy: A closer look

On the ballot: The other player in debate over Proposition 1 in county’s November election

rboone@theolympian.comSeptember 30, 2012 

Puget Sound Energy’s operations in Thurston County – in addition to the Thurston Public Utility District – is the other half of the current public power debate, a company that has provided power here for more than 100 years.

Proposition 1 is the name of the Thurston County ballot measure that will determine whether the Thurston PUD will be given the authority to pursue public power.

Since the early 1990s, PSE’s base of operations in the county has been in Olympia at 2711 Pacific Ave. SE, a 3-acre site that is home to its customer service center, as well as employee offices and room for its trucks and equipment. There’s also a “storm room,” showing two wall-size images of the county and its 30 substations.

A substation steps down the electrical voltage received from a transmission line so that it can be delivered safely to homes and businesses.

When the power is working, nobody notices PSE, other than the monthly bill they receive for the electricity and natural gas that they use. It’s a different story when the power goes out.

PSE got hit with the triple whammy of storms last January, a storm that started with snow, then freezing rain and then wind, knocking out power throughout Western Washington and in the county, where many were without power for several days.

About 1,500 to 2,000 customers a day visited the service center during the storm, most of whom wanted to explain where they were living and whether PSE could pinpoint their specific problem, said Casey Cochrane, local government and community relations manager for PSE.

Hundreds of line crews were called into the area to help and the maps in the storm room lit up, dotted with information about problem spots in the county. The storm cost PSE $72 million.

“About 90 percent of the transmission lines had some kind of problem,” said Gretchen Aliabadi, a spokeswoman for PSE.

Those transmission lines deliver power from several sources.

In 2011, that fuel mix was 49 percent hydroelectric – higher than normal because of the recent excellent snowpack, spokesman Roger Thompson said – 32 percent coal, 16 percent natural gas-fired electricity and smaller percentages for some renewable energy, not including wind power, and nuclear power.

PSE owns dams on the Baker River, the Puyallup River and at Snoqualmie Falls. The company also has long-term contracts to purchase hydroelectric power from Chelan, Douglas and Grant county PUDs, Thompson said.

PSE’s wind farms generate about 10 percent of its power needs, but that total is not included in the company’s 2011 fuel mix because it has sold that power as renewable energy credits. Once sold, it can’t be claimed as a source of power for PSE, Thompson said.

Puget Sound Energy in Thurston County

Location: 2711 Pacific Ave. SE Olympia

Years in business: Puget Sound Energy has provided some form of power, electricity or gas, to the county for more than 100 years; the current PSE service center in Olympia has been based at the location since 1991.

Employees: 92.

Thurston County customers: 119,300 electric; 46,973 natural gas.

Did you know? About 10,000 to 12,000 customers a month visit PSE’s service center in Olympia.

Regulators: PSE is subject to review by the state Utilities and Transportation Commission. Since 2002, the company has had seven general rate increase requests before the UTC board.

Owners: PSE was a publicly traded company until 2009 when it was acquired and taken private by a consortium led by a division of the Macquarie Group of Australia, the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board and other investors.

Partners: Potelco is PSE’s construction contractor and Asplundh is the company’s tree trimmer.

Renewable energy: PSE has invested $15 million into energy- efficiency programs in Thurston County in the past five years.

rboone@theolympian.com 360-754-5403 theolympian.com/bizblog @rolf_boone

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