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Sunnyside ironing out new Pacific Power contract

The clock is ticking on Sunnyside's electric utility franchise with Pacific Power.

On Monday night the Sunnyside City Council took a step towards meeting the deadline of January 2006, when the current electric franchise expires.

The original 20-year agreement was inked back in 1985 and, during discussions Monday night, council is retooling for a new agreement.

Council's wish list ranged from burying overhead power lines to requiring Pacific Power to use an arborist whenever trees or vegetation need to be trimmed.

The city won't likely get the overhead power lines buried beneath the ground, as requested by Councilman Bruce Ricks. "It's rare that we would go in and replace an entire line," Clark Satre, Pacificorp's regional manager, told council.

Satre added that individual line burying projects would likely be considered only in the event of a neighborhood association or a specific development project targeted by the city.

But other changes are already in writing for the proposed new franchise.

In the future, for example, Pacific Power will indeed be required to have a certified arborist present before it trims any trees to accommodate power poles or wires.

The power company is also pledging to build a new electrical substation at a cost of about $7 million between Sunnyside and Grandview, beginning in 2007.

"It will significantly strengthen the whole transmission system," Satre noted.

Councilwoman Bengie Aguilar asked if there could be additional pay stations other than the sole station at Food Pavilion. "I go in there on my lunch hour and they're always so busy," she said. "It would be great if they could have more of them."

Satre conceded he wasn't sure if there would or could be other electric utility pay stations in Sunnyside, noting that wasn't in his area of expertise.

He did offer that any Pacific Power decision on new pay stations would depend on whether the company thought there was enough customer need.

Like the current agreement, the proposed new franchise is non-exclusive, which means other providers could offer electricity to the city.

"I hate to say this," Satre chuckled as he told council, "But you could get into the electrical business yourself. He added that the city has power of condemnation over the power poles. "I'll have nightmares thinking about it," he added of the prospects of Sunnyside becoming an electric utility competitor.

Based on Monday night's friendly discussion and negotiations, however, the city doesn't seem likely to get in the electricity business any time soon.

Mayor Ed Prilucik said he was "very pleased" with the service provided by Pacific Power. He lobbed kudos the company's way, ranging from economic development to the reduction of power outages from squirrels.

At Prilucik's suggestion, though, Sunnyside asked for, and will receive, an opt-out clause after 10 years.

Satre noted his company has a similar arrangement with Zillah, whereby both the city and utility have a 90-day window after 10 years to revise or cancel the franchise.

If neither party comments during the 90 days then the contract automatically renews for an additional 10 years.

Council did not take action following the electricity franchise discussion.

City Attorney Mark Kunkler indicated council will make a decision at a future meeting on the proposed new contract with Pacific Power.

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