PUD board grapples with Energy Lunch sponsorship

By Allison Arthur of the Leader
Posted 9/9/14

Jefferson County Public Utility District commissioners argued over a $1,000 proposed donation to an Energy Lunch program before voting on Sept. 2 to give $333.33, a decision based on the fact that …

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PUD board grapples with Energy Lunch sponsorship

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Jefferson County Public Utility District commissioners argued over a $1,000 proposed donation to an Energy Lunch program before voting on Sept. 2 to give $333.33, a decision based on the fact that the free program is hosted in Port Townsend.

Commissioner Barney Burke, who represents District 1 (Port Townsend) on the three-member board, brought forward the idea of supporting the Energy Lunch series, which takes place monthly at the Port Townsend Community Center. Sponsors typically pay $1,000 to have their name associated with the program, which brings speakers to the community from around the country to speak on energy issues.

The sponsorship proposal triggered PUD manager Jim Parker to call PUD attorney Malcolm Harris, because he wanted clarification of what kinds of programs the public utility can financially support. Parker also said he would like to have a board policy on sponsorships in general.

Parker told commissioners that Harris indicated that donations may be considered unconstitutional in the eyes of a state auditor – gifting public funds to private people – “unless the expenditure can be directly traced to an activity that promotes or supports one of the PUD’s statutory purposes.”

Burke argued that the Energy Lunch program, an offshoot of the Local 20/20 sustainability effort, did precisely that. He noted the PUD’s energy conservation program was touted at a recent meeting.

Burke made a motion to give $1,000, provided the money was not used to pay for lunches, but to support the program overall, which runs on a $10,000 annual budget.

The motion prompted board president Wayne King (District 3) to say the idea was going down a “slippery slope” because the program was only offered in Port Townsend.

“I can't see how the PUD as a whole is going to benefit supporting this. It will benefit Port Townsend, but it won’t benefit Brinnon, Quilcene, Gardiner, Cape George … but the money will come from all three districts. Why you won’t come to the county is beyond me,” King said.

Brian Goldstein, who owns Spyglass Energy Solutions and is an Energy Lunch program sponsor, said the program brings people from all over the country to speak, and the best chance for a larger audience is desired.

“Our fear is if we have it in Brinnon or Quilcene and bring in people thousands of miles, usually on their own time, to visit us, that 10 people will show up. We can’t guarantee a good turnout in those other locations,” Goldstein said, adding that he’d love to be able to offer a live video feed of the monthly talk or perhaps offer other workshops in the county.

Commissioner Ken McMillen, who lost an August primary vote that would have kept him in the running for his District 2 PUD seat, said he had been to the lunches and found them valuable, but like King, he indicated they related more to Port Townsend than the rest of the county.

Burke made a motion to give $1,000, but McMillen suggested a modification of the motion – giving the luncheon program a $333.33 donation – one-third of the typical sponsorship.

“I know it sounds crazy, but on the other hand, it is in Port Townsend,” said McMillen, “I know it’s splitting the baby.”

Burke said he would go along with the donation because “it’s a step in the right direction.”

The board voted unanimously to donate $333.33 to the Energy Lunch program.

SEPT. 16 PROGRAM

Past guest speakers of the Energy Lunch have included representatives from Bonneville Power Administration, Clallam Transit System, and a Vancouver, British Columbia–based renewable energy company, as well as an expert on greenhouse gas emissions from Portland, Oregon, and a internationally recognized authority on waste management.

The Sept. 16 Energy Lunch program brings Ryan Dicks, the sustainability manager for Pierce County, to Port Townsend. The free program, open to anyone, is from 12:30 to 1:30 p.m. at the community center, 620 Tyler St.

Dicks talks about what action Pierce County has taken to improve building energy efficiency and to increase fuel efficiency in county vehicles, among other issues.

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