Opinion | Publisher Sean Flaherty: Microsoft debate reveals a lack of communication between community partners

I would like to see Microsoft move in a few miles from my house just outside of the East Wenatchee city limits. There’s a familiarity there for me.

We purchased our first home in “affordable” north east Bellevue in 1992, about 2 miles from the Microsoft campus. That little rambler built in the 50s is still worth more than anything we have purchased since. Its value also had appreciated more in the seven years we owned it than any home of ours since.

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Sean Flaherty

Publisher, The Wenatchee World

Microsoft sure seems like a more community friendly neighbor than that Gates’ world-beating corporation of the 90s and early 2000s. Governmental penalties, changes in leadership and a maturing workforce will do that.

There is no doubt that Microsoft’s data center being developed here will bring growth and prosperity. Not everyone values that growth as highly as I do.

Growth creates the kind of tension we are seeing right now in our community.

I have had conversations with our readers about frustrations with the growing population, the changing culture and the stream of people moving here from the west side and even Cali-for-ni-a. One gentleman told me he’s the one who’s going to block Blewett pass — he’s SO done with people moving here.

Not everyone wants the value of their home or property to increase. It means more taxes. We are already facing the turnover of many orchards into homes and other buildings, changing our landscape and our lifestyle. More people means more congestion. Growth is already here. This would be juicing the growth with steroids.

The issues here are a little more complex than the typical NIMBY argument.

The basic conflict: A very ratepayer/member-driven organization — the Douglas County PUD — is trying to fulfill its mission to minimize their risk and preserve their constituents’ low power rates.

Community leaders on both sides of the river led by the Chelan Douglas Regional Port Authority see this as the big lottery of economic development. This is the one that’s so big and seemingly so obvious, they were clearly blindsided by the Douglas County PUD’s approach to pricing this opportunity. Many counties offer incentives to entice this kind of company to locate within their boundaries. The Douglas County PUD sees the need to mitigate their risks.

Then, there is Microsoft.

They purchased the property. Dirt is being moved. Other organizations in the community are already opening up to welcome them. It’s all a bit premature. Did Microsoft move too quickly, making assumptions that they would be embraced by all? Or did they pull this whole show together betting that progress and the positive vibes would push this through?

Microsoft already had an agreement in place to get the power they will need. But they need the PUD to provide the capability to transmit that power. Even the simple act of transmission can tax the PUD’s infrastructure and they have chosen to hit Microsoft with all the charges they deem appropriate to protect their members’ rates and their future power transmission capabilities.

The community leaders have expressed concern that the Douglas County PUD’s transmission rates and administration fees are too high to keep Microsoft interested and attract future businesses. This leadership group appears to have been surprised by the PUD’s approach to pricing late in the process.

So what’s next? Where does this go?

I think the Douglas County PUD has essentially decided their transmission rates following their Wednesday evening Power Delivery Rate Workshop.

Will Microsoft accept the Douglas County PUD rates or play hardball and walk away? The PUD really seems OK with not serving a mega-star customer like Microsoft.

The port is in a position to lose the most whether Microsoft accepts some version of this pricing structure or does not. The outcome of this will impact every other potential deal down the road.

How can our region’s primary promoter of economic growth — the Chelan Douglas Regional Port Authority — do its job and sell the opportunity of our region when they are not on the same page as one of their primary partners?

Look at the land available for development.

All of those bitcoin server sheds, all of the primary targets they have focused on for our region’s growth in Douglas County are relying on power transmission and possibly generation by the Douglas County PUD. The port’s offices and biggest opportunities are right there in Douglas County.

It is disappointing that both sides do not share the same goals and frustrating that this point has surfaced so late in the process. They should have worked these differences through with clarity, far in advance.

I am a Douglas County resident and a Douglas County PUD customer. I want Microsoft as a neighbor. But if this deal falls apart, we need to hold leadership accountable in both the Douglas County PUD and the Chelan Douglas Regional Port Authority for their lack of clarity and communication on common development issues.


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