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caption: Homes on Mercer Island are shown on Thursday, January 17, 2019, in Seattle.
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Homes on Mercer Island are shown on Thursday, January 17, 2019, in Seattle.
Credit: KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer

Bellevue, Olympia residents petition to break away from Puget Sound Energy

A group of residents wants the east side of King County to stop using Puget Sound Energy. They call it the dirtiest utility in Washington state.

There's a petition to form a new public utility district for Bellevue, Issaquah, Mercer Island, Woodinville, and surrounding cities.

It would remove that area — approximately 500,000 — from Puget Sound Energy's service. The East King County Public Utility District would be operated by an executive board consisting of three locals.

If at least 35,000 people sign the petition by early July, a measure will be on the 2020 ballot.

Puget Sound Energy is the state's largest energy provider. 56% of its energy mix comes from coal and gas. But there are more environmentally sound alternatives, said David Schwartz, an organizer leading the effort to establish the East King County Public Utility District.

"A public utility would provide cleaner energy than [Puget Sound Energy] can, because they are heavily invested in natural gas, which is just as dirty as coal when you consider its entire life cycle", he said.

Schwartz argued that a public utility district would be more reliable than Puget Sound Energy, and added that the community would "choose to invest in things like resiliency."

There's a similar push underway in Olympia to create a public electricity district in Thurston County's existing water district.

Both efforts have garnered a bit of celebrity support. Dennis Kucinich, a Democrat and former Ohio Representative who once ran for president, visited Olympia and Kirkland this week to raise money for the petition drives.

Puget Sound Energy says, in a statement, "We share [our customers'] desire for clean energy that is also reliable and affordable, and those have been our key considerations as we’ve invested billions in renewable energy resources and as we work in the coming years toward the state’s goal of 100% clean energy.

"While we have been serving our communities across Western Washington for nearly 150 years, we always want to hear how we can do better. We believe partnering with our community is the best path forward."

PSE has fought proposals to create new public utility districts within its service area in the past.

Microsoft has already partially removed itself from Puget Sound Energy's service, and now gets 80% of its local energy from carbon-free providers.