My Turn: Right the inverted Truckee Donner PUD pyramid of power | SierraSun.com
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My Turn: Right the inverted Truckee Donner PUD pyramid of power

Neal Mock

The decision-making process at the Truckee Donner PUD was revealed in the recent coal debate. Our district, at its best, should utilize a decision-making model thats bottom-up in nature. Ideas should germinate from ratepayers (owners) with the elected board serving the publics interests and the general manager serving both owners and board. That power pyramid was revealed as inverted during this protracted process.With public opposition to the coal contract gaining momentum, the districts general manager, Peter Holzmeister, wrote customers, dated Nov. 17, 2006 at ratepayer expense. This letter epitomized the top-down nature of the inverted pyramid. It misrepresented many facts; focusing on the difficulties and costs of getting renewable energy and the alleged relative ease of power procurement from Utah. It glossed over environmental concerns about pollution from traditional pulverized coal plants and even misrepresented the Utah plant as state-of-the-art. Conservation options werent addressed. Legal mandates were avoided. No risk assessment of the contract was presented to the public. The fact that we had market exposure from 2009 to 2012 apart from the coal contract was never addressed. Ratepayers were told that we could secure power from the coal project for half the current market price. The projected $35/Mwhr pricing was later revealed to be anything but static.Ironically, the districts own counsel shot holes in the fixed, low-cost argument when a risk assessment was cited on the night the board voted against the contract. The assessment highlighted 11 ways we could have been hung out to dry had we signed. Board member Bill Thomason ensured the public was provided with this assessment. Our GM failed to do due diligence on the risk assessment of this contract. Furthermore, up until the recent revamp of the districts Web site, discussion there still alluded to this false premise of half-priced power from the ill-fated contract. The Web site comments suggest future rate increases would be a result of rejecting the contract. This isnt true. The contract wouldnt have taken effect until 2012, if then. Even with the one-year bonus promised by Doug Hunter of UAMPS designed to entice us, we wouldve been without contracts from 2009 to 2012. Thomason prodded district staff to concede this at the Jan. 3 board meeting, by rhetorically asking if acceptance of the contract would have had any effect on our immediate power-supply needs and market exposure between 2009 and 2012. Staffs response in the negative revealed that truth. Because the GMs less-than-convincing letter didnt limit public outcry, an odd appeal to a stack of e-mails occurred. It was stated that e-mails favoring the contract were 3 to 1. Perhaps they were, but those in support were being misled into making two flawed assumptions.One was that the price of power was fixed at $35/Mwhr and the other was that we had a no-penalty exit clause. Had Thomason not requested a risk assessment of the contract from legal counsel, we may have missed the inaccuracy of those assumptions. If the GM had been acting responsibly, he would have done his due diligence, especially given the long-term nature of the contract. Clearly he did not. In a rare moment of transparency near the end of this controversy district staff admitted (when asked) that around $100,000 had already been spent in the contract process. The inverted pyramid of power allowed this without public or board oversight.The GMs missleading Nov. 17 letter speculatively led rate payers to believe that if they rejected the contract, they would face rate increases of up to 30 percent by Jan. 1, 2009. False. We wouldve had market exposure from 2009 to 2012 either way. Let me state clearly that any rate increases between now and 2012 cannot be connected with the rejected coal contract.Also regarding integrity of information, early in the contract discussion renewable energy resources like wind and solar were dismissed as not-yet viable. We were assured that all means of securing more environmentally sound power had been exhausted. Yet at the special board meeting of Feb. 14, Doug Hunter of UAMPS was back, extolling their many renewable resources available to us including wind and solar. Its obvious that these resources didnt just blossom since last December. Rather, the political will to find them changed. In short, we were lied to. Furthermore, the promised citizen advisory committees meant to address the will of the ratepayers regarding renewable energy and conservation remain mired in the workshop, not action-item, stage two months later. The inverted power pyramid model has yet to right itself and has led to violations of the public trust. The favored model of making decisions (from the bottom up) will inevitably come to pass if ratepayers show up to board meetings and demand accountability and transparency. Please help right the inverted pyramid of power at the PUD. Demand to know why management salaries go up regardless of observed benefits to ratepayers, and in some cases despite observed liabilities to ratepayers. Hold staff accountable when were presented with false information. Then ask why the one person in charge of conservation at PUD has been demoted on the salary scale just approved by the board. Is it retaliation for being outspoken against the unsound coal contract? Staff who pushed the contract will see raises under this salary structure. Something is fundamentally flawed here. With well-informed minds and watchful eyes on the process well inevitably see something new happen: When the people lead, their leaders will follow. Neal Mock is a Truckee resident.


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