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The following is presented as part of The Columbian’s Opinion content, which offers a point of view in order to provoke thought and debate of civic issues. Opinions represent the viewpoint of the author. Unsigned editorials represent the consensus opinion of The Columbian’s editorial board, which operates independently of the news department.
News / Opinion / Editorials

In Our View: Reelect Clark Public Utilities commissioner Barnes

The Columbian
Published: September 30, 2022, 6:03am

In the Voters’ Pamphlet for the Nov. 8 general election, Nancy Barnes makes a compelling argument for her reelection as Clark Public Utilities commissioner: “Let’s keep a great thing going!” The Columbian’s Editorial Board recommends a vote for Barnes against a worthy challenger — Don Steinke — for commissioner from District 2.

As always, this is merely a recommendation. The editorial board trusts that voters will study the candidates and the issues before casting an informed ballot.

For many voters, Clark Public Utilities commissioner is a low-profile position; but it is an important one. The winner will be elected to a six-year term overseeing a publicly owned utility that has an annual budget of $340 million and is tasked with providing electricity and water to residences and businesses throughout the county. The role of utility commissioner has come under necessary scrutiny with growing concerns about climate change and how we will fuel our communities in the future.

For years, Clark Public Utilities has been a model organization, supplying reliable and inexpensive electricity and water to local residents, providing outstanding customer service, and effectively responding to state mandates regarding power production and emissions.

Barnes has been on the commission for 30 years, helping to guide that success. As she told the editorial board: “I’m focusing on my job of delivering efficient electricity and clean, healthy water at cost.” She added: “Rates haven’t been raised in 12 years, and you don’t hear of blackouts and brownouts around here.”

During an interview, Barnes demonstrated impressive knowledge of the utility and the challenges of maintaining excellent service while adjusting to the realities of climate change. For examples of how the utility benefits customers, she pointed to various financial-assistance programs, conservation initiatives and the introduction of smart meters that help manage electricity use.

It also should be noted that of three candidates in the primary election, she was the only one to mention Clark Public Utilities’ role in providing water to local residents. That demonstrates her broad understanding of the utility and a holistic approach to her duties at a time when climate change dominates the discussion.

Indeed, climate change is an existential threat, and Steinke deserves credit for being a leader in raising local awareness and for accurately assessing the issue. Steinke, who has experience as a teacher of physics and environmental science at the high school level, has been an outspoken climate change activist. As a candidate, he makes strong points about the economic and job-creating potential of a green economy.

If Steinke wins this election, he will make an excellent and well-informed utility commissioner. If he does not win, we encourage him to remain engaged as an important voice in our community, holding officials accountable and urging necessary climate action.

While action is necessary, its scope is largely the purview of the Legislature. The role of the utility commission is to best serve customers, providing reliable service at the lowest possible rate. When lawmakers pass mandates for reductions in the use of fossil fuels, utility companies must respond accordingly.

Clark County’s power company has done that, in part because of Barnes’ leadership. The utility has followed state law, provided reliable service and been fiscally sound. Voters should desire to keep a great thing going; The Columbian’s Editorial Board recommends Nancy Barnes for utility commissioner from District 2.