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Benton PUD GM Rick Dunn Leverages Substack to Stake Out Positions on Energy Issues

In a recent Q&A with Public Power Current, Rick Dunn, General Manager of Washington State’s Benton PUD, explained why he decided to launch an energy newsletter published through Substack, noting that it is one more tool that the public power utility can utilize for community education and outreach. 

“Benton PUD has become increasingly frustrated over the last ten years or so with the direction our state legislature has been taking us in terms of clean energy policies. Like all utilities we have to balance affordability and reliability with being environmentally responsible but a balanced approach is not what our state has been about,” Dunn told Public Power Current in detailing why he launched the Substack newsletter.

“After investing significant time and money in collaborating with other utilities to educate Washington state elected officials we realized we weren’t being adequately listened to.  What utility sponsored studies showed was that we could reduce the small amount of CO2 in the electricity sector in a cost-effective way over time so long as we keep natural gas fired generation on the table for grid reliability purposes,” he said.

“But in spite of our exhaustive studies and communications efforts, our state chose to myopically focus on CO2 reduction at any cost; and in 2019 passed a 100% clean electricity mandate by 2045. Even though Washington state, with hydropower like nowhere else in the country, has historically delivered some of the lowest cost and cleanest electricity in the United States; representing only 0.6% of total U.S. electricity sector emissions,” Dunn said.

“While we have always been a leader when it comes to engaging in the political process and have been a trusted community partner for over 77 years, we decided to raise the bar in a serious way when it comes to community education and outreach,” Dunn said.

“If the politicians aren’t going to listen to us, then we wanted to make sure our customers understand that.  And that our customers (and others in the region we live) have access to utility sourced information that improves their energy literacy and their ability to hold politicians accountable,” he went on to say.

So far, Dunn has been writing “what could be better described as ‘white papers’ which take about 10 to 15 minutes to read. I do plan on publishing posts in the future that are more in the 5 minute or less category but the topics I have covered so far are fairly controversial and require more depth if you really want to understand what’s going on.” 

Dunn said he likes the fact that Substack supports adding graphics, “which are very useful when covering complex topics and when you want to leave a lasting impression on readers.  Substack is easily accessible on the web and it has one click sharing features that allow posts to be linked to social media platforms as well as easily shared with friends, family or colleagues through texting and email.”

While Substack allows authors to charge for subscriptions, “you can also have people subscribe at no charge which is what I am doing. Subscribers get notified each time a new post is made. I stood up the Substack in my spare time beginning last November 2023 and have posted 9 articles with the top 5 generating the vast majority of views which have reached more than 13,000 at this point.” 

Dunn currently has over 400 followers and subscribers but by using LinkedIn and Facebook, the views are far beyond the subscribers. “It’s also fascinating to see that my subscribers are from 28 states and 7 countries so far,” he said.

The energy topics that Dunn has written about so far range from the key role that hydropower plays in maintaining reliability in the Pacific Northwest region to issues tied to rooftop solar subsidies in Washington State.

Articles can be accessed by anyone with an interest simply by typing rickdunn.substack.com in a web browser.

Dunn said that other public power utility leaders should consider publishing energy newsletters on Substack.

“Not-for-profit public utilities are in a unique position to tell the truth regarding the impacts of clean energy policies,” he said.

“Consumer-owned utilities have the trust quotient on our side and we must do more to help our customers become more educated about current clean energy policy trends which I believe could be a disaster if we don’t change course soon.  And they are going to hurt the poor most,” he said.