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EWEB board incumbents compete for recently vacated seat.

Byline: SCOTT MABEN The Register-Guard

EWEB customers steamed about paying higher rates won't have a chance to vent their frustrations at the ballot box this month.

Both candidates in the only contested Eugene Water & Electric Board race are incumbents. And both voted for two of the past three rate hikes.

In a matchup partly resulting from redrawn city wards, Sandra Bishop and Peter Bartel each are vying for EWEB's at-large seat, vacated recently when Commissioner Susie Smith left the board.

City redistricting last year squeezed Bartel out of Wards 4 and 5, and his term expires this year. "I have to run if I want to serve," he said.

If Bishop loses, she still has her seat through 2004. If she wins, Bartel will be off the board in January and the remaining four commissioners will appoint someone to serve the balance of Bishop's term.

Bartel said that he has learned a lot about EWEB and the utility industry in his first term and that a second term would let him apply that knowledge.

"Like any large organization, it takes a while to get up to speed and learn your stuff," he said. "Your second term is where you start to affect things."

Bishop, in the middle of her second four-year term, filed for the at-large seat in October, before redistricting was completed and far ahead of other candidates in this month's primary election. She said she wants to represent a broader population than Wards 6 and 7, including EWEB customers who can't vote for utility commissioners because they live outside city limits.

"I have lived up the McKenzie (River)," she said. "I have an affinity with the people up there."

Bishop also said if she wins, another west Eugene resident could be appointed to her current seat, broadening the geographic diversity of board members.

After redistricting prompted Bartel to file for the at-large seat, Bishop said she considered withdrawing but decided to stay in the race.

"I'm not on this board to give someone else an advantage, to keep their position politically," she said. "It's not about politics or running for an office. It's about what's best for the utility, what is best for the city."

Bartel said he hopes the contest doesn't suggest to voters that there's disharmony among the utility's leadership. "This is a very tough period for the utility, but in no way does this mean the board is fractured," he said.

Bartel touts his experience with local planning issues, including his role as president of the Lane Council of Governments board of directors.

"I've really tried to reach out in a specific way to individuals and in a very broad way to our local government officials to position the utility to be a leader," Bartel said.

Bishop said she brings to the board the perspective of a small business owner.

"I feel like I represent a certain point of view of people who actually have to work for a living, who are actually in the most competitive part of the economy, which is owning your own business," she said.

The key contrasts between the two emerge in their stands on telecommunications and tiered rates.

Bartel championed last fall's switch to tiered rates, charging EWEB customers at higher rates when their monthly power use passes certain levels. Bishop voted against tiered rates, which was tied to last fall's 36 percent rate increase.

Although he voted for both rate increases last year, Bartel opposed the most recent one, a 2.9 percent surcharge on electricity use. He said the board needed to do more to cut the utility's operating budget, suggesting pay freezes among other options.

As for last fall's 36 percent increase, Bartel said commissioners had no choice but to approve it to maintain EWEB's financial stability.

Bishop voted for the spring 2001 rate increase as well as the recent surcharge, which is a temporary charge to help EWEB recover losses from last year's erratic energy market and drought.

"I voted for a surcharge to save the utility's bond ratings," she said.

Both say they want to try to lower rates as soon as possible, but they acknowledge that depends a lot on wholesale power prices set by the BPA.

EWEB buys most of its electricity from the federal power marketing agency, which adjusts rates twice a year.

Bartel is the board's strongest proponent of EWEB building a fiber-optic telecommunications network - a venture that has had a bumpy start and now is on hold because of the recession.

A publicly owned telecommunication network is an essential tool for the community's economic growth, Bartel said. It will enable Eugene to compete for clean industries with cities that offer lucrative tax incentives, and it will help lure businesses by boosting the quality of education, from primary schools up through the University of Oregon, he said.

It will stand on its own and generate its own revenues, he said.

Bishop has reservations about EWEB getting into a new business and said the utility should stick to its basic functions: providing water and electricity.

"In theory, to have public ownership of a communications system is good," she said. "In practical application, I don't know if it will work. Until I see a business plan with the numbers in it to tell me it is economically feasible, we can't do it."

Bishop said she also has concerns about whether EWEB's system will compete unfairly with the private sector.

PETER BARTEL

Age: 56

Family: Wife, Debbie Steinman; one daughter

Government experience: EWEB commissioner since 1998; president, Lane Council of Governments, 1999-present; Eugene Planning Commission, 1997-2001; Lane County Budget Committee, 1991-1996; Eugene Downtown Commission, 1989-1992; Senior and Disabled Advisory Committee, 1979-1984; assistant to Lane County Board of Commissioners, 1979-1982

Occupation: Small-business consultant

Education: Master's in education psychology, bachelor's of history/philosophy, University of Texas at El Paso

Residence: Eugene

Endorsements: Democratic Party of Lane County

Contact info: 343-6782;

pbartel46@aol.com

Latest book read: "Paris to the Moon" by Adam Gopnik

Last movie seen: "Monsoon Wedding"

Person/event who most influenced your politics: The life - and assassination - of President Kennedy

Proudest accomplishment in public life: The 2000 passage of a city charter amendment for EWEB telecommunications project

SANDRA BISHOP

Age: 50

Family: Husband, Jim Porter

Government experience: EWEB commissioner since 1997; chairwoman of Shelton-McMurphey-Johnson House board of directors; additional service with Westside neighborhood group, Metropolitan Area Planning Advisory Committee, League of Women Voters, Eugene City Club and Lane Council of Governments

Occupation: Contract business

lobbyist

Education: Attended University of Oregon, Lane Community College

Residence: Eugene

Endorsements: Democratic Party of Lane County

Contact info: 345-5001;

sbishop@teleport.com

Latest book read: "The Professor and the Madman" by Simon Winchester

Last movie seen: "The Light Horsemen"

Person/event who most influenced your politics: Singer-songwriter Joan Baez

Proudest accomplishment in public life: On the board when EWEB teamed up with Pacificorp for joint ownership of Wyoming wind power project - the first such public-private partnership

CANDIDATES Q&A

In recent months EWEB has come under heavy criticism from customers. Many of them are upset about their rising electric bills. What will you do to address these concerns?

Peter Bartel: Will look at future rate increase proposals very carefully; cost containment will be a critical component. EWEB must reduce the impact of power cost increases from Bonneville Power Administration.

Sandra Bishop: Lower rates as soon as possible. "That's the only responsible thing to do, and that may happen in a couple of years, it may happen sooner." EWEB still is reasonably priced in the region, but that doesn't help people pay their bills.

Should EWEB continue to fund its conservation and low-income energy assistance programs at present levels?

Bartel: Tiered rates promote the use of conservation and efficiency standards, and people are using less electricity. Conservation is very important to customers. Supports low-income funding, but in a way that creates a change in customer behavior rather than just help them pay their bill.

Bishop: Yes. Conservation pays for itself and is the least-cost method of acquiring power. "EWEB is not in the business of providing social services to people." But low-income assistance programs are the most prudent thing to do financially. EWEB writes off less in unpaid bills when it offers that help.

What are the three most important projects or initiatives for EWEB to pursue in the next five years?

Bartel: Continue planning for EWEB site to make operations more efficient; balance reliance on power from the BPA with EWEB's own energy development, including renewable energy; pursue an affordable telecommunications system for business and residential customers.

Bishop: Diversify generation resources, including renewable energy, owned and controlled by EWEB; maintain strong conservation program; protect McKenzie River as city's municipal water source.

If you could reverse one board decision from the past year, what would it be?

Bartel: The decision (later reversed) during the energy crisis to put a gas-fired generator on the EWEB site, resulting in a $3.5 million loss to the utility. The community should have had more say about placing a gas-fired plant in the heart of Eugene. (Bartel was the only commissioner to vote no.)

Bishop: Tiered rates. "There's no question that tiered rates were too much too fast. The theory of tiered rates is that they will result in more conservation. There's no evidence ... that directly relates tiered rates to conservation." Tiered rates are unfair for a lot of families in Eugene. (Bishop and Commissioner Patrick Lanning opposed last fall's 36 percent rate increase, which was tied to the switch to tiered rates.)

Evaluate General Manager Randy Berggren's performance, especially how he handled the energy crisis last year:

Bartel: "Randy has outstanding skills in being able to distill extremely complex issues into a form the average person can understand." He set in motion things, such as a continued commitment to conservation, that positioned EWEB to deal with the energy crisis.

Bishop: "Randy Berggren is one of the top utility managers in the region. He has done a very good job in a very difficult time, and I think he's a very good, professional utility manager."
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Title Annotation:Candidates: The at-large utility position is sought by Sandra Bishop and Peter Bartel.; Elections
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:May 10, 2002
Words:1682
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