In recent days, Seattleites have focused their attention on concerns such as high gas prices and the recent fee imposed on plastic bags.
While these issues drew significant attention, public input was muted on a future-oriented resource plan seeking to better serve energy needs of Seattle.
"I understand that people are more like to attend community meetings when they're upset about something that's happened or is planned," said Mike Egan, a spokesman for Seattle City Light. "But it was still a disappointment to me that so few attended the July 15 meeting."
Seattle City Light recently held public meetings on July 8 and 15 to discuss the future of its Integrated Resource Development Plan. The city had a rigorous media and marketing campaign, hoping for a large turnout and energetic public discussion, but the meetings did little to provide for greater public insight.
"We had five people at our first meeting [in Shoreline] and about 6 to 7 at the second," said David Clement, Resource Planning Director for Seattle City Light.
The IRP is a long-term plan that outlines how the power utility will meet anticipated customer needs over the next 20 years. The plan is designed as a measure to ensure that Seattle City Light provides energy that is cost-efficient, effective and still balances important social and environmental concerns.
Part of the IRP is that it is updated every two years with public input in order to increase its perspective and provide a better framework for future input into energy planning initiatives.
The people in attendance were dedicated to the issues at hand – for a reason.
"I was surprised at how well engaged the people who attended were, much more than the general public," said Clement. "All had some connection to the resource industry or energy conservation."
Sara Patton, the Executive Director of the Northwest Energy Coalition, attended the July 15 meeting and saw it as the end of what has a been long journey toward the Seattle City Light plan update.
"We are very excited at the new five year plan," said Patton. "But is has been frustrating waiting all this time for a new deal."
The good news for her was that this signaled a future for Seattle City Light that emphasized conservation of energy resources.
"If there are less cost, less risk resources, we should invest in them," said Patton.
Patton is a big proponent of conservation and sees this as the top resource in which Seattle City Light should invest and promote. The current resource portfolio consists of conservation, generation resources and market resources. It maintains that conservation be the "resource of first choice."
"The NWEC has been deeply engaged on this subject for a long time and have worked on the first seven IRPs," said Patton.
For the past three decades, Seattle sought to improve its energy needs in tandem with environmental concerns. Patton mentioned, for example, that in 1976 the Seattle City Council voted down a proposal for more nuclear power plants and to focus energy resources on conservation.
The meetings were meant to have a larger public presence and represent a greater cross-section of Seattle's populace. Eagan mentioned that City Light placed ads in 19 different newspapers and sent out press releases to over 84 different publications. In addition to traditional new organizations, they also sent out emails and notices to over 80 blogs, websites and listservs.
Clement said the city gains useful insights from the public meetings and hearings. These meetings, in particular, were the first of their kind in North and South Seattle.
"We learned a variety of things by having the people vote on what resource portfolios they preferred," said Clement. "Conservation was the most favored resource by far, at a margin of two to one."
The revised IRP, which will be released later this year, is based upon the feedback from the public meetings and charts a course forward for Seattle City Light.
"We want to continue to have them," said Clement. "But, we are experimenting with different ways to let people know that these meetings are happening beforehand."
While the public meetings are now concluded for this IRP, the plan is updated every two years and Seattle City Light is always interested in hearing feedback on how they can better structure and invest their energy resources. For more information, email Seattle City Light at [email protected] or go to their website (http://www.seattle.gov/light) in order to find out upcoming public meetings.