PSE is acting now to ensure that our energy future is secure. We are building on our 135 year legacy of putting the customer first. As members of the board of directors at PSE and civic leaders in the area, we would like to comment on PSE's approach to this challenge.
PSE currently provides electricity to about 1 million customers and natural gas to some 735,000 customers. By 2030, the state says there will be about 1.4 million more people in the 11 Puget Sound counties served by PSE, equivalent to adding more than two more Seattles.
To provide the necessary electricity and natural gas to fuel the growth and meet customer needs, PSE will need a lot of capital ¬ó a billion dollars a year ¬ó almost indefinitely. That's where the idea of partnering with new investors comes in. PSE is currently owned by stockholders ¬ó individuals and institutional investors in 20 countries around the world. The company also goes to Wall Street to borrow money, not an easy task with a BBB- rating in these volatile public markets.
Late last year, we announced a merger with a consortium of long-term investors from the United States, Canada and Australia. They are committed to providing more capital up front and willing to invest more over the long term to support PSE as we work to meet the growing energy needs of the region. The utility will still have debt, but we will have deeper pockets to rely on.
The investors will help keep PSE financially strong, enabling us to meet the varying energy needs of all our customers, whether rural or urban. We will be able to continue to maintain the scale of services our customers have come to rely on that balance cost, reliability and environmental stewardship.
We are proud of our leadership in providing green power and solar energy to the region (EPA and Solar Energy Power Association each respectively rate us among the top 10 in the nation). We're also proud to provide responsive customer service, energy-efficiency programs and low-income assistance, while making the necessary investments to strengthen our electric and natural gas system.
Our potential investors are interested in our region because they know it has growth potential and they are investing in PSE because they like the way it is being run. They don't want to move its headquarters, change its management or tamper with its service-oriented employee team. Our partners have already invested $300 million in PSE, which has helped us with our capital program this year. They are willing to make sure PSE has the $1 billion in capital and the healthy equity/debt ratio we need each year going forward.
The management of PSE will remain local and the PSE board will have three positions reserved for local citizens. Bill Ayer, CEO of Alaska Air Group, will be chair. Respected Tacoma businessman Herb Simon and PSE President and CEO Steve Reynolds will remain on the board, although Reynolds is stepping down as chair.
The merger is currently undergoing a rigorous review by the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission (UTC). We reached settlement with all but one of the parties concerned about the merger. Our new investors committed to infuse an additional $200 million in capital and to put in place even stricter dividend restrictions, helping to ensure PSE is financially strong.
The next step will be for the UTC to hold hearings on the settlement and the other evidence in the case. We all want continued regulatory oversight and local input into the operation of our utilities. The UTC will continue to monitor PSE and decide our rates. In addition, our investors have gone the extra mile by volunteering to file reports on PSE's finances with the Securities Exchange Commission, just as if PSE were a publicly held corporation.
All told, we believe the merger is positive for local communities and customers. PSE cannot wait until there is a problem with our energy supply or the "highway" of infrastructure that gets it to our customers. We also want to break new ground in providing more robust energy-efficiency programs as well as more renewable energy. In other words, we want to act with the vision that is necessary and responsible to our customers and the vibrant Puget Sound region.
In the end, that is what this merger successfully accomplishes. The commissioners at the UTC have the ultimate say and that decision should be based on the complete evidence before them. We hope for the region's sake that the decision is yes.