Questions for PSE

It was one for the record books. A fierce windstorm that followed a rainstorm of biblical proportions. The damage to the power system was severe. It was cold. The Island was black for days. Hundreds of Islanders remained without power for up to a week.

City employees worked 24/7 to assist both Islanders and utility crews; grocery stores stayed open, neighbors rallied to help one another. Help came from as far as California and Missouri. Our very sincere thanks to all of them.

But we have questions for Puget Sound Energy.

Investor-owned PSE spends millions each year to improve system reliability by upgrading equipment, lines and keeping right-of-ways clear through tree trimming. But wouldn't undergrounding some utility lines have helped here? The same areas of the Island seem to go down each time there is severe weather. Burying lines underground costs three to four times what overhead lines cost. Yet couldn’t parts of the Island system be better protected?

What about personnel on the ground immediately after the storm? It seemed that the Island had been abandoned during the first days of the outage.

Expectations are high. People are not used to doing without heat or lights, or their ability to communicate. No one knew when their power would be restored. Could PSE have done a better job in telling customers when to expect help?

And finally, does the use of contract crews ensure reliability for customers or merely cost savings for the company and its shareholders? In a controversial move, PSE “outsourced” all of their line crews nearly ten years ago. Thus, few if any of the crews who were out working to restore power are employed by the power company.

PSE is a company with plenty of resources: more than $6 billion in assets and annual revenues of $2.5 billion. In March of 2006, PSE Chairman and CEO, Stephen Reynolds told shareholders in the 2005 Annual Report, “I made a commitment to restore the Company’s quality of customer service, to restore our image and standing within the community and to restore our financial health.”

Restore us.

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