City of Buckley gas utility to become property of Puget Sound Energy

Customers in Buckley could begin saving money early next year if the city moves forward with an anticipated sale of its natural gas utility.

While there are no guarantees, gas rates could drop 10 percent for residential customers and 6 percent for business clients when the utility becomes property of Puget Sound Energy.

That was the early word from Mayor Pat Johnson following last week’s action by members of the Buckley City Council.

During their meeting of July 9, council members agreed to accept PSE’s bid of $5.4 million for the utility and, further, to asked voters in November whether they want the city to shed itself of the increasingly-difficult gas system.

The city’s natural gas utility was formed decades ago with taxpayer dollars, so it will take a majority of Buckley’s voters to authorize a sale.

Buckley is one of just three cities in Washington that maintains its own gas utility, the others being nearby Enumclaw and the Kittitas County community of Ellensburg.

Johnson said Buckley is simply too small to compete in the natural gas marketplace, unable to strike the deals that result in lower costs. Also, the state’s tiniest utilities must follow the same regulations as large systems, she said, and the mandates are simply more than Buckley can bear.

The bottom line, Johnson said, is that city residents and business operators will continue paying more than their fair share for natural gas.

City residents have previously shown a willingness to part with the gas  utility. A previous survey of ratepayers showed clear support for sale.

Johnson said PSE’s $5.4 million offer was slightly more than the city expected, but noted the regional natural gas giant did a thorough examination of Buckley’s system before submitting a bid. While a couple of other gas providers expressed interest, PSE was the only one to offer a formal bid, the mayor said.

Voters will decide the fate of the gas delivery system during November's general election. If approved, the sale would be completed within a couple of weeks, as soon as the election was certified.

Johnson said the millions generated from the sale could be used on improvement projects throughout the city, though no decisions have been made in that regard.

Between now and November, Johnson said, Puget Sound Energy has indicated a desire to assist with a public education campaign, perhaps hosting open houses to explain what might result from the sale.

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