Mike Lignoski grew up in East Raymond and graduated from Willapa Valley High School. He worked for Weyerhaeuser for 38 years where he started as a mill electrician and ended his career as an electrical planner implementing energy saving practices at the mill in Aberdeen.
What motivated you to run for PUD commissioner?
A few years ago my brother-in-law returned back to Raymond from being a school principal in Seattle and he ran for the port commissioners job. I said, “Why the heck are you doing this? He said — “When you retire and you have something to offer the community I think you should finish your career in public service,” so I started thinking about what I could do.
Then my grandson looked me in the eye and said ‘Grandpa, it’s your generation’s fault that put this world in this predicament right now,’ and I decided maybe I should try to do something. So running for PUD commissioner is something I have a little bit of background in and I think I could maybe influence the PUD in trying to go to carbon-free energy; so that’s my big motivation.
What work or life experiences have prepared you for this position?
Working as a mill electrician particularly in the electrical planner’s stage — it’s the private sector– but there’s a lot of things in common, a lot of things I have to look into, dig up, and find the answers to. And if nothing else I understand the terminology when the manager comes in and says — “How many megawatts? How many this?” — I can understand very well what he is talking about. And if a customer comes to me I think I could understand their problems just a little bit better than a layman.
What do you think the PUD is currently doing well and what do you think could use improvement?
Well what they’re doing well is they’re trying to improve the conservation; going out and trying to get people to insulate their homes; windows; and they had a solar program, I don’t think it went over too well, it wasn’t well publicized but it was there. I’d like to try to bring that back. A few years ago they went into trying to put in the Radar Ridge windmill which I thought was a great idea but that was kind of kiboshed by the bird lovers.
What they could improve on is a lot of things. Customer service — I hear a lot of people complaining about their customer service. The PUD is owned by the public and the should be very considerate when a customer comes in — they are not only the customer but actually the owner of the place.
One thing in particular that I think they have done that was very questionable was a few years ago the 25 percent wage increase they gave their employees. A lot of us at that time took wage cuts and didn’t get anything back in return.
My plan is — I can’t do anything about it right now — but if I get elected I would bring in a wage audit team to see what jobs are overpaid, if any, and which are underpaid, if any. And then we could do things to change in the next contracts.
How would you rate the PUD’s relationship with the public?
In some respect they are pretty darn good. They’ve done some good things where you can pay online, and some of the employees are very, very nice. But, there’s some things they could improve on a lot. Especially expediting the cost of putting in a house — an electrical drop to a house. Sometimes they take a really long time. I understand why the cost is so high. Somebody has to pay the cost to that wire; it’s pretty darn expensive. Other utilities subsidize that. I’m not so sure we want to get into subsidizing peoples buildings. I certainly don’t want to pay for somebody’s million dollar house and then have them sell it in a few years and then take a profit on it. They have good and bad points at this time.
What can be done to effectively meet the power demands of the growing marijuana industry?
At present there really isn’t a problem because we’re under the tier two level. If we do go over the tier two level, buying power on the open market is actually cheaper than our contracts with BPA. So at the present time there really isn’t a problem. If the tier two level does go up, we’ll have to be paying more and I’m not so sure the marijuana industry shouldn’t be paying part of that. I know it brings a lot of jobs into this county, but they have the potential of making a lot of money with this, so maybe they should be involved in increased revenue.
How do you make sure projects like, for example, the new Long Beach substation stay on track and under budget?
Well we have to make sure that they’ve done a very good job at getting the contracts, and so far I think our manager has done an excellent job of making contracts. Some things do go out of sight though; I know electrical devices have gone crazy throughout the last few years, especially copper wire and most of these devices have a lot of copper in them, so we really can’t do much about that, but just trying to do the best we can in making the contracts and trying to keep them in line. That’s about the only thing we can do.
What needs to be done to keep the PUD solvent and relatively debt free?
Well we have to make sure that we don’t go out of line and start making crazy projects, such as maybe the Tokeland project was uncalled for at the time. We have to watch to make sure that doesn’t become a big money pit. Now having said that, at this time, I think we have no choice but to go ahead right now. We’re a third of the way through that project. The project is scheduled to be completed in 2017 or early 18 and they have downgraded that from a two-tier program. The first tier we’re just going to go to Tokeland. That will increase our consumers by 1300 ratepayers. That itself will bring some money in. But like I said, we have to be careful that does not turn into a big money pit.
Do you think the PUD has done a good job of prioritizing its projects or do you see problems in some of its commitments and long term plans?
Well yeah, I do think there’s some problems in terms of its long term plans; such as the Tokeland project. Maybe it wasn’t quite open enough — I was not in favor of it to begin with — but like I say right now, I think we need to go forward with it. If we do terminate the project at this time its going to cost us $1 to $2 million just to terminate the project; to put everything back together. We’ve already spent $1.5 to $2 million already in this project. That money could be $4 million just thrown in the garbage. My opponent says that it’s going to raise everybody’s rates, but the money has already been allocated, it’s been budgeted in, it’s been factored into the rates, so our rates are set at this time. Now, that’s not to say our rates are not going to go up. We’re going to have a rate increase from Bonneville in the near future, but it won’t have anything to do with the Tokeland project.
Pacific County PUD is still involved in a long-running lawsuit with internet and cable providers; How important is a resolution to this conflict and what would you like to see happen?
It looks like it’s going to come back to the PUD winning this, which is the way it started out. I certainly hope they’ll complete this, but big money can drag this out for a long time. I’m sure, after talking to everybody, this is going to be a big win for the PUD eventually.
What does Michael Lignoski bring to the table that the other candidate doesn’t?
I will bring to the table some integrity, some honesty and doing my due diligence in finding out what the laws are and what I would have to do in order to be a good PUD commissioner. I think this has been like a job interview in how we are going to act as PUD commissioners. My opponent has surely taken some shortcuts; if not trying to circumvent the laws, trying to take some gray areas and trying to take an advantage in this election. He’s being investigated for two incidents in PDC violations of election laws; one of which he’s taking more than $500 from one person, another in one which he’s spent more than $5,000. We all signed the same agreement that we wouldn’t do this. And he decided it wasn’t worth looking into, which the rest of us did. For a person to say ‘I want an open and transparent PUD,’ he should look in the mirror himself first.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
I would like to get the whole PUD utility to go green and by green, I mean no carbon. Right now we’re like 85 percent, because we get 85 percent of our energy from Bonneville. So we only need to go like 15 percent more. If everybody in the utility would say ‘I want green energy,’ you could. But the trouble is you’re going to pay a surcharge for that — on your bill it says ‘I want to get green energy,’ but you have to pay a certain amount more and I’m not sure what that amount is, but I want to eliminate that. And that way it would be an incentive for everybody in the whole county to go green. If we went totally green, I think that would really say a lot for Pacific County. The rest of the state will look at us and say, ‘Yeah that’s the first county that’s totally green.’
One more thing, we’re going to vote on a carbon tax this fall. I don’t think it’s going to pass. It’s not well-written. I’m really not in favor of it. But if it does pass, we’re all going to have to pay a carbon tax on our energy. If we were totally green in this county we would be in compliance with that and therefore we would be exempt from that tax. So it could actually lower our rates. So if I was elected that would be one of the first things I would try to do is to eliminate the surcharge on green energy.