Issues include rates, energy sources and future of Enloe Dam
By Marcy Stamper
Jerry Asmussen and Aaron Kester are running for District 3 commissioner of the Okanogan County Public Utility District (PUD). Current commissioner Ernie Bolz did not seek a third term. PUD commissioners serve for six years.
The candidates talked about their positions on electric rates, energy sources and Enloe Dam, the small hydropower project near Oroville. The PUD has a federal license to generate power at the dam for the first time in 50 years but is still seeking a company that would be interested in rebuilding and operating the dam. They have also looked for an entity interested in taking complete responsibility for dam removal.
Asmussen is a rancher and auctioneer from Tonasket who has lived in Okanogan County for most of his life. He has degrees in agriculture economics and animal science from Washington State University.
Asmussen has been a director on the Tonasket School Board for 17 years, and is currently board chair. He is also a board member of the Okanogan Conservation District and the Hamilton Youth Foundation of Washington Tractor.
Asmussen listed four major issues for the PUD:
• making sure customer service remains good.
• ensuring reliability of the power system (most of the PUD’s customers are served by just one line, rather than having a redundant back-up).
• operating as cost-effectively as possible.
• planning to meet future infrastructure needs to support economic growth in the county.
Asmussen first started thinking about running for PUD commissioner six years ago, when he noted that Bolz was running unopposed, and has been following PUD issues since then. He decided to run this year when Bolz did not seek another term.
Asmussen believes his experience on policy-setting boards will be an asset, since the board sets guidelines and the general manager has most decision-making responsibility. Asmussen’s board experience includes hiring and evaluating chief executives.
Asmussen is not looking to shake things up at the PUD. “It takes time to change a ship — you should keep it on course and not deviate,” he said.
Asmussen wants the PUD to look at long-term needs to ensure its power infrastructure is adequate to support growth throughout the county. The PUD’s approach has been to react to needs when they come up, rather than to plan for the future, he said.
Asmussen believes the PUD should continue with the relicensing process for Enloe Dam to keep its options open, which would also preserve the value of the dam for the PUD. “If it lapses, you can’t ever reopen it — then it’s just a big piece of cement. We have a fiduciary responsibility to preserve an asset,” he said.
It’s yet to be determined whether Enloe can used efficiently, said Asmussen. But if Enloe could produce power at less cost than the wind-power project that the PUD currently invests in, Enloe could help reduce the utility’s overall power costs, he said.
Asmussen believes the PUD has been well managed. “My leadership skills will make sure it remains that way,” he said.
Kester spent the early part of his childhood in Missoula, Montana, and moved to Tonasket before high school. He worked at Lee Frank Mercantile, his family’s business in Tonasket, during high school and college, and is currently part owner and manager there.
Kester has a bachelor’s degree in business entrepreneurship from Washington State University. He worked at The Boeing Company for three years as a methods process analyst, streamlining and organizing the manufacturing process of 747s.
Kester is vice president of the Tonasket Chamber of Commerce, president of Tonasket Kiwanis, serves on the board of the Tonasket Natural Foods Co-Op, and is a civil service commissioner for the Tonasket Police Department.
Kester listed these major challenges facing the PUD:
• providing reasonably priced power to Okanogan County.
• creating more diversified sources of power and broadband.
• becoming more self-reliant by taking advantage of opportunities for solar power.
• lessening demand for electric power by using natural gas and home solar systems.
• using power-generation projects to create jobs and benefit the economy.
Kester wants the PUD to become more involved in generating solar power, both to serve county residents and to sell as surplus. Building a solar infrastructure would help reduce the PUD’s dependence on hydropower from the Bonneville Power Administration and could provide high-quality jobs in the county, he said.
Kester supports using incentive programs to help residential and business customers install solar and wind generation.
Kester also supports lessening overall power consumption through conservation measures, including more-efficient motors and lights and proper home insulation.
The PUD should look for ways to bring natural gas to Okanogan County using resources in Washington and British Columbia, said Kester.
Kester wants to research past and future costs before taking a position on Enloe Dam, but he is concerned about the costs of construction and maintenance there. He also has concerns about the potential toxicity of silt behind the dam, particularly on aquatic life.
“We should utilize our resources with discretion,” said Kester. “Removal [of the dam] has been unsuccessful and would be expensive. I suggest we relicense and generate carbon-neutral power and jobs. There is also the option to leave it be.”
Kester believes that a solar project would produce more power than Enloe, and at a lower cost and with less maintenance.
Kester believes his background in business entrepreneurship will enable him to analyze existing and future contracts as well as future power and broadband projects, said Kester.
“I am well-versed at listening to what people want and providing a reasonable and affordable solution,” said Kester.