Tad Johnsen, our Water and Light Director, is retiring after many years of working to ensure the reliability of our electric system. His final report to the Water and Light Advisory Board contained some concerning statements.
Referencing the Council’s recent focus on renewable energy, he stated:
In the future, electric utilities will need to make the transition from the provider of electric service to providing the different electric services consumers want.
This raises several questions, including the following: Who will bear the cost of these different “options”? How will this affect our service reliability? Who makes a decision to move from a full service menu that provides broad benefits throughout the community to an a la carte set of options desired by some but may be costly to all? Who is deciding what “consumers” want? Will the community be allowed to vote before there is a change?
Unfortunately, we can’t count on the Council to decide what will best ensure safe and reliable electric service at reasonable rates. Ever since the Council “paused” a proposed transmission line with no alternative plan in place, it has avoided talking about that issue. Over 60% of voters approved the proposed transmission line. That line, had it been built, would have helped assure basic reliable electric service at a reasonable cost for many years to come. Instead, we have paid millions, associated with the Council’s delay. The Council does like to talk about “renewable energy”. However, as we have previously explained, “renewable energy” is not a substitute for adequate transmission despite the efforts of various Council members to suggest that it is, and it is not always cost effective.
Mr. Johnsen also cautioned:
As we push towards increased levels of renewable energy in our resource mix, we need to understand the impacts to market risk and potential impacts to electric rates these changes may have.
We do need to understand these risks, Unfortunately, the Council has been less than transparent about the ongoing costs of its actions.
Mr. Johnsen further stated that the current Integrated Electric Resources and Master Planning process will likely affect the structure of electric service rates. He also pointed out that the planning for implementation of the Council’s recently adopted Climate Action and Adaptation Plan “could have an impact on how all of Columbia’s Utilities provide services in the future.”
He expressed the hope that
the impact of these changes will be evaluated from different perspectives, including short term and long term financial costs, environmental impacts, and quality of life effects.
We hope so too. Although given the Council’s past lack of transparency on this issue we can’t assume that will happen. So if you care about safe and reliable electric service, the time to get involved is now. One way to prepare is to take one of the classes that Osher is offering on understanding your electric service. Taking this class can help you better understand, monitor, and weigh in on emerging issues. You can register for one of two sections, one on Monday afternoons (March 9-April 6) and one on Tuesday evenings (April 14-May 5).