1 candidate backs public power

ELECTION: Both waiting, to some extent, for more data

rboone@theolympian.comOctober 2, 2012 

Thurston Public Utility District 1 Commission candidates Steve Fossum and Linda Oosterman have extensive public service experience and long-range goals for the water utility, but they continue to have separate views on the issue of public power.

Fossum, 48, supports public power, while Oosterman, 69, remains undecided. She also was undecided before the August primary.

“I have not taken a definite position on public power within Thurston County for several reasons,” she said, adding that public power-related studies released by Puget Sound Energy – the current power provider here – and the PUD have not given “specific, detailed plans.”

“The disparity between the PSE and the PUD study leave too many questions with no solid answers,” Oosterman said.

She added: “I need specific answers to some taxation and service questions.”

The two studies come as a result of the Thurston Public Power Initiative, a grass-roots effort that says power should not be controlled by a corporation but by a nonprofit that answers to the public. The initiative effort collected enough signatures to qualify Proposition 1 for November’s ballot.

PSE then released a study that valued its power infrastructure countywide, plus startup costs for a new power-providing utility, at about $1 billion.

Some PUD commissioners have disputed that figure and even the idea that they would completely take over power service here.

The PUD then released its own study, revealing three proposals for offering power in the county – but not countywide – including cost estimates for building its own or acquiring power infrastructure from PSE.

“My support for the option of public power does not in any way supersede my ability to effectively and responsibly serve our county,” Fossum said. “If after extensive study and public debate the numbers don’t add up, then as PUD commissioner I will not support public power. But if I think it will work, I will be public power’s biggest advocate.”

His own research on public power has shown that publicly owned utilities have “consistently provided cheaper and more reliable service” than for-profit utilities, Fossum said.

Both candidates, if elected, say they have long-range goals in mind for the PUD.

Water is a top priority for Oosterman, she said. The PUD currently serves about 4,000 water customers through water systems it owns or manages.

“I am concerned about the management of our water systems and water rights as they have a direct impact on the health, safety and vitality of our citizens,” she said.

Fossum would consider other options for the PUD, too, such as providing sewer and Internet service, he said.

“I would like to set up criteria for future water system acquisitions to ensure the PUD will be able to effectively and financially manage any new systems,” Fossum added.

Fossum has worked at the state Department of Social and Health Services for more than 20 years; Oosterman has spent 20 years in management.

She serves on the Thurston County Drug Court Foundation board and is an active Olympia Kiwanis member.

Oosterman said she has gained the support of business owners, residents and elected officials in the county.

Fossum said a lot of voters aren’t even aware that the county has a PUD.

“A lot of this race involves informing voters not only what the PUD does now, but also what I think it could do in the future,” he said.

Oosterman has so far raised about $7,500, including contributions from state lawmakers Chris Reykdal, Karen Fraser, former Lacey Mayor Graeme Sackrison and Paul Berendt, former state Democratic Party chairman.

Fossum has raised about $5,200. Contributors include the Thurston Lewis Mason Central Labor Council, former Olympia Mayor Bob Jacobs, former PUD Commissioner Paul Pickett and Thurston Public Power Initiative Chairman John Pearce.

Thurston PUD commissioners serve six-year terms. The current commissioners are Chris Stearns, Alan Corwin and interim commissioner Jim Lazar. Lazar, appointed after Pickett resigned, chose not to run for the District 1 seat.

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

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