Note: the following letter was written prior to the Nov. 5 election, which saw Buckley voters agree to sell their natural gas system.
I read with interest that the city of Buckley has agreed to sell its gas system to Puget Sound Energy if city voters approve. A primarily reason given is the burden on a small community to operate the system. Other advantages cited include lower rates and access to PSE’s energy efficiency incentives.
A number of years ago, the Enumclaw City Council had the opportunity to sell Enumclaw’s gas utility to PSE. Unwisely, the decision was made not to sell. Not long after, Enumclaw was threatened with significant fines by the WUTC for not addressing regulatory deficiencies, notably including safety violations.
Although the deficiencies in the Enumclaw system ultimately were corrected and the threat of fines removed, the episode left a lingering question -- why is a small town like Enumclaw trying to operate a natural gas utility? This question still needs answering.
Now that Buckley has had an epiphany on this topic, the time has come for the Enumclaw Council to reconsider the question. Enumclaw loves to go its own way and tends to cling to this approach even when it doesn’t make sense. Our town bears all the burdens of ensuring physical safety and regulatory compliance and the town’s citizens are continuing to be denied the benefits of the many incentives and rebate programs that a dedicated utility provider like PSE can offer.
Assuming Buckley’s decision is ratified by the voters, the only towns in Washington state still trying to be gas utility providers will be Enumclaw and Ellensburg. That just might communicate that it’s time to stop trying to do it all.
If the city is freed of the need to maintain this system and comply with all the accompanying regulations, maybe it will have more time and money to concentrate on fixing the roads and improving our local business climate.