If the Seattle City Council is concerned about housing affordability, it should encourage the new Seattle City Light boss to manage costs and minimize rate increases.
LEADING Seattle City Light is one of the most important government jobs in the Puget Sound region.
The utility is the nation’s 10th largest public power system, supplying electricity to Seattle and eight surrounding jurisdictions using a mix of its own hydroelectric dams and contracts with regional sources.
City Light is also the greenest utility in the nation, and is working to become even greener.
But the agency should do more than buff Seattle’s environmental credentials. It also needs to operate efficiently, minimize rate increases and work cooperatively with customers, other city agencies and regional partners.
Mayor Ed Murray’s choice for the job, Larry Weis, appears to be a good one despite controversies at his previous job, running Austin Energy in Texas.
Weis improved finances and set a goal to increase Austin’s mix of renewable energy from 5 to nearly 55 percent renewables by 2018.
Yet that wasn’t enough for Seattle City Council members Kshama Sawant and Mike O’Brien, who kowtowed to environmental activists and applied an extreme litmus test to his nomination. They were outvoted 2-7when the council confirmed Weis on Monday.
Utility chiefs should be praised for pursuing reasonable compromises, minimizing rate increases and making progress on environmental goals. It’s not a job for the narrow-minded.”
Weis ran afoul of activists because he called for Austin to replace a natural-gas power plant with a combination of solar and more efficient gas generation. A task force suggested replacing the plant entirely with solar, but Weis said a mix of sources would be more affordable — with less effect on ratepayers — while meeting environmental goals and providing reliability.
Utility chiefs should be praised for pursuing reasonable compromises, minimizing rate increases and making progress on environmental goals. It’s not a job for the narrow-minded.
Really, council members who profess concern about housing affordability and the plight of the working class should embrace a manager sensitive to the fact that rate hikes increase housing costs. Utility rates are a component of the federal housing-cost index Seattle uses to calculate affordability.
City Light will continue to be ultra-green, so the focus should be on minimizing costs and its effect on affordability.
On that front, the council’s most substantive effort was made by rookie Lisa Herbold, who questioned whether Weis should receive merit bonuses on top of the city’s richest pay package. Herbold noted that bonuses were being phased out by the city, which expects employees to perform at their highest level for their base pay.
The council might also have clarified Weis’ commitment to transparency and accountability.
In a January interview, Weis fretted about meeting with Austin council members primarily during open, public meetings.
The pragmatism, experience and candor Weis brings are most welcome — as long as they’re on display in public, not behind closed doors, with the oversight of public representatives.