Buckley plans to sell natural gas system | Proposition No. 1

The city of Buckley hopes to sell its natural gas system and has a willing buyer in Puget Sound Energy – now it's up to the voting public to decide.

Proposition No. 1 appears on the general election ballot that last week landed in the laps of voters throughout Pierce County. The mail-in ballots are must be returned by election day, Nov. 5.

The idea of selling off the natural gas utility has been years in the making, as the notion of a small town maintaining its own system became increasingly difficult. Ever-increasing regulatons placed on the natural gas industry have made it difficult for small operators to provide the service at a competitive price. Added to the mix are costs of upkeep on an aging system and the often-volatile open market.

Finally, earlier this year, members of the Buckley City Council decided to put the natural gas system up for sale, using a competitive bid process. A few suitors expressed interest but, in the end, only Puget Sound Energy jumped in. PSE offered 5.4 million, slightly more than the city had hoped to get.

The city had previously polled its citizens and received resounding support for unloading the gas system.

A sale to PSE may benefit both private citizens and Buckley businesses if early numbers are to be believed. Information found in the current voters pamphlet notes that PSE's residential rates are up to 10 percent less that the city now charges, while PSE's business rate is, on average, 6 percent less than the city's.

A citizen group favoring the sale adds that Buckley is unable to provide many of the incentives PSE has at its disposal – things like rebates on energey-efficient appliances and weatherization programs.

Puget Sound Energy can offer such programs, along with better rates, due to its large customer base. It is the largest natural gas provider in the Puget Sound region with more than 760,000 customers scattered throughout 10 counties.

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.

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