Puget Sound Energy office reopens on Vashon

Bert Valdman and Jim English address a small crowd before cutting the ribbon at the reopening of Vashon’s PSE office. - Leslie Brown/staff photo
Bert Valdman and Jim English address a small crowd before cutting the ribbon at the reopening of Vashon’s PSE office.
— image credit: Leslie Brown/staff photo

Puget Sound Energy officials, saying they want Islanders to use less of their product, have opened up an office on Vashon that will provide information on how to reduce residential energy costs.

The office, which opened in May and was celebrated at a small gathering last week, is also a place where Islanders can pay bills or get other customer service needs met, officials said.

The office, located at 18125 Vashon Hwy S.W., was a going concern for many years until it closed in 1998. The decision to reopen the office — the first of a handful of regionally based centers the company plans to launch — underscores the company’s need to have more face-to-face interaction with its customers, many of whom are feeling the impact of higher energy costs, top executives said during an interview shortly before last week’s ribbon-cutting on Vashon.

Bert Valdman, PSE’s chief executive officer, said those higher costs stem from a number of factors that are putting pressure on rates, factors that most people can’t affect. “The one thing you can control is how you use energy,” he said.

Vashon residents on average consume more energy than most of the company’s other residential customers, due, Valdman and other executives speculate, to the age of Vashon’s housing stock and the fact that the Island is woodsy and thus homes are both darker and cooler. Valdman said the company is eager to see if its office and the services it offers will have an impact on Vashon’s energy consumption.

“This is a great test to see if we can be effective,” he said.

When the company closed the office, conservation was not an issue to many customers or company officials, Valdman added.

“What this (reopening) reflects is the new reality of our business,” he said.

The visit to Vashon comes at a pivotal time in the company’s history. PSE, the largest Washington state energy company, which provides electricity to more than a million customers and natural gas to 735,000 customers, is seeking state approval for its recently announced sale to a group of Australian and Canadian investors. The company’s shareholders have approved the $7.4 billion deal, as has the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. But the state Utilities and Transportation Commission, which earlier this month completed the last of three public hearings on the sale, still has to approve the transaction as do other federal officials.

Most of those who have commented publicly oppose the deal, according to news reports. And in an editorial in the Seattle Times last month, the newspaper, too, weighed in against the proposed transaction, saying it “shares the public’s uneasiness” over the thought that the state’s largest utility could be owned by foreign investors.

Valdman and two other top executives — Phil Bussey, senior vice president of corporate affairs, and Calvin Shirley, vice president of energy efficiency services — said during last week’s interview that the sale will bring in additional capital to PSE, funds it needs to replace aging infrastructure, take on new initiatives and ensure the company’s reliability.

“We’re not going anywhere,” Valdman added. “The management won’t change. The governance of the company will remain the same.”

The company’s Vashon office, they added, is a sign of the company’s commitment to its customers. “This building is a natural extension of what we’re trying to do,” Valdman said.

The office offers information about PSE’s energy-saving programs, as well as a customer computer. Patti McClements, manager of the office, said she’s being trained in energy-efficiency so that she can better help those who come in with questions.

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