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May 31, 2020

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Clark Public Utilities commissioner Nancy Barnes leading challenger

But Mike Lyons nets 48.9 percent

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In the race for Clark Public Utilities commissioner, incumbent Nancy Barnes was leading challenger Mike Lyons 50.6 percent to 48.9 percent Tuesday night, after a low-key campaign for a high-stakes position.

The utility’s three elected commissioners oversee an entity that provides the sole source of electricity for 183,000 residential, commercial and industrial customers and water for another 30,000 customers.

The position pays $1,800 a month plus benefits and a $104 per-diem when conducting business.

Barnes, who works with her family’s payroll service and has a long history of activism with school and citizen groups, is seeking her fourth six-year term. Lyons, a retired firefighter who serves as an elected commissioner for Fire District 5, outpolled three other challengers to Barnes in the August primary.

Lyons highlighted the commissioners’ recent decision to boost residential electricity rates by 5.7 percent. Although Lyons said he agrees with the commissioners’ decision to operate on a tight budget — rather than building up a large cash reserve — he argued that Clark should find a way to hold rates in line. Because 70 percent of its current $388.6 million electric system budget goes directly into acquiring energy, Lyons suggested extracting more cheap federal hydropower from the Bonneville Power Administration.

“I’d like to increase the amount of BPA power that we are supplied,” he said.

The utility gets about 70 percent of its energy from BPA, with the rest coming from its gas-fired River Road Generating Plant or the open market. Previously, the utility received virtually all of its power from Bonneville. It opened River Road in 1997, with the idea of diversifying its power supply.

“I think Mr. Lyons is anxious to look backward,” Barnes said.

She noted that Bonneville is scrambling to spread around the output of the federal hydropower system, which is hamstrung by requirements to spill water for migrating salmon and to integrate intermittent energy sources such as wind power.

“Bonneville is out of power,” she said. “We all wish we could get more power from BPA, but it’s not going to happen. They are simply out of power.”

John Branton: 360-735-4513 or john.branton@columbian.com.<I>

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