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By Bob Hegamin AN OPINION January 11, 2001

Seattle City Light is a municipal electric utility owned and operated by the people of Seattle. That is, City Light is neither a privately owned business, nor a Public Utility District (PUD). Seattle's Mayor and City Council are the ultimate authority for the utility's operation and rates, and accordingly have a fiduciary duty to reserve that dedicated power for the City's residents.

Seattle's electrical energy crisis didn't just develop overnight. The City's elected officials had actually created a City crisis by touting "Conservation" as a form of electrical generation, which simply encouraged them to use it as an excuse to avoid constructing new plants.

Sadly, Seattleites are being duped. Called on by their elected officials to help alleviate the current shortage, they are dutifully attempting to "generate" watts through conservation. But, oddly, each exercise in futility has been accompanied with a rate increase, the last being a 10% "temporary" surcharge, which will be in effect through the year 2002. Now, four months later, the City is demanding even more conservation from its citizens, and considering another 18% rate increase. In spite of their sacrifice, Seattleites will be paying almost one-third more for each kilowatt-hour of electricity than they were only two months ago.

Over the years, Seattle's lack of a legitimate energy policy created the power shortage the City presently faces. Seattle's elected officials have given any number of reasons for "Conservation" and increased rates, while attributing their actions to a regional problem. But, what excuses do they have for the following, among others, which led to this electrical power shortage in Seattle?

Construction cranes are all around downtown Seattle and Belltown. While Seattleites are expected to conserve, the City has continued to allow large loads to be added.

Centralia coal-fired steam plant. City Light sold its 8% share in the "environmentally unfriendly" plant, depriving the City of that electrical generation even as loads grew.

Low water levels in the reservoirs. The lack of rainfall had already been reported early in the fall of 2000, yet the City ignored the obviously threatening problem.

Failure to raise Ross Dam. The City allowed itself to be talked out of its agreement with Canada to raise Ross Dam, thus losing availability of that generating capacity.

Neglected maintenance of the system. City Light has continued to place its emphasis on increasing management while minimizing the operation and maintenance of the physical plant.

California's failed deregulation. Seattle had also been interested in deregulation, manifested by providing Nordstrom's California outlets with Seattle's inexpensive power. Further considerations were put on the back burner only because of activist objections.

NOTE: As a City Light "network" design engineer and candidate for the Seattle City Council in 1981, I called for a moratorium on permits for the construction of high-rise buildings. Its purpose was to allow time to develop a comprehensive plan to match proposed developments with City Light's capability to supply them with power, yet without increasing residential rates. Obviously, without an energy policy, City Hall gave the developers a free hand to build indiscriminately.

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