Commission Meeting Recap for June 12, 2018

DURING TUESDAY’S MEETING GRANT PUD COMMISSIONERS

– Heard from the Port of Royal Slope. A presentation recounting communications between the port and Grant PUD dating back to 2003, was given on behalf of the port by Kevin Richards who is President of Western Pacific Engineering and Survey.  During the presentation Richards focused on previous discussions between both groups regarding the potential addition of new electrical infrastructure, including a substation, within the port’s industrial park.

To date, any growth and the need for power to the port’s property has been met through existing substations and other infrastructure within the greater Royal Slope area.  Presently an agricultural based company, that could provide up to 400 local jobs,  is looking to build a new facility at the port and open for business as soon as next fall.  Although, adding supplementary distribution capabilities from an existing substation could meet the customer’s initial power needs, there may be limits on this approach if the company were to expand without the construction of additional electrical infrastructure.

This scenario, combined with the potential for other companies expressing “real” interest of locating at the port led to their request for building the new “Red Rock” substation.  Something that has been discussed since those early conversations between the utility and the port.

Richards said the struggle is that the Port of Royal slope has the land, the water system, water rights and roads to help facilitate growth but they don’t have the electrical infrastructure in place to allow for immediate construction.

Commissioner Terry Brewer assured the port that our policies are “pretty fair and liberal” to allow for growth. However, he pointed to the potential risk of increased rates from building out infrastructure that may not be immediately used or needed.

For a number of years, Grant PUD has required larger customers provide a financial contribution in new infrastructure costs as projects are developed.  The situation facing future companies looking to build at the port would be the same.  Also, timing for building new infrastructure takes time and can depend on a variety of issues, such as land use rights, equipment availability from vendors and more.

The port and Grant PUD staff agreed to make a goal to meet regularly to ensure needs of future customers can be met in a timely manner and the best approach can be utilized for all. (1:57:55)

During Tuesday’s business meeting commissioners:

Approved a motion for a change order to a contract with Jacobs Engineering Group, Inc., increasing the not-to-exceed price of the contract by $100,000 to a new total of $2,050,000 for their work in assisting with various engineering projects. To date, the group has supported 23 engineering projects for Grant PUD.  Some of these projects include repairs on the Wanapum Dam spillway apron and replacements of Priest Rapids Dam turbines.  The increased funding will provide for current and future project work throughout the three year contract extension period.  (3:08:30)

Approved a motion for a change order to a contract with Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WFDW) increasing the not-to-exceed price of the contract by $995,192 to a new contract total of $7,434,379.67.  As part of its operating license Grant PUD is required to produce and release 5.6 million fall Chinook salmon. The contract allows WFDW to perform all aspects of this requirement while allowing Grant PUD to achieve its federal requirements for the species. (3:12:00)

Approved a motion for change order to a contract with Nicholson Construction Company, increasing the not-to-exceed price of the contract by $579,580 to a new total of $1,250,000 and extending the contract completion to July 31, 2018.  The contract was originally awarded to Nicholson in February to perform field investigation within the Priest Rapids Grout Gallery. The change order increases the contract value needed to perform the additional portions of the FERC mandated drilling when the disbonded lift joint was discovered. (3:14:45)

Approved a motion to settle a liability claim for property damages and personal injury stemming from an October incident where a Grant PUD employee was responsible for an auto accident.

The final payment will close the claim, which totals $15,592, for property damages, medical expenses and lost wages. (3:22:55)

The commission also:

-Heard from Brett Lenz as he provided the quarterly update from Cultural Resources. Lenz reported that one of their tasks has been to identify potential effects district projects may have on local environmental resources. During preparation work for the upcoming Priest Rapids right bank rebuild, they discovered a large archeological finding. As a result of the finding, the project plan has been modified so that any work will not impact this culturally sensitive area.  (1:22:20 and pages 13-22 staff reports)

Received reports regarding the following topics:

  • Fish and Wildlife Quarterly Business report by Tom Dresser (55:55 and pages 3-12 staff reports)
  • A review of Grant PUD’s strategic plan dashboard for 2017 and an update of 2018’s current status by Baxter Gillette (1:41:45 and pages 23-24 staff reports)
  • Grant PUD’s Community Engagement Activity report (03:29:15 and pages 25-44 staff reports)

Next commission meeting: June 26, Ephrata Headquarters

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Construction projects finish up at Crescent Bar

Ribbon cutting ceremony set for June 2 to celebrate

EPHRATA — Come join us in celebrating the transformation of Grant PUD’s most visited recreation site, Crescent Bar. To mark the completion of construction at the site, Grant PUD is hosting a ribbon cutting ceremony and family friendly party for all to enjoy.  The free event will take place on June 2 beginning at 11:30 a.m. at Crescent Bar.

Come and enjoy Crescent Bar tours, free food samples, and a presentation from renowned geologist, Nick Zentner. Bring a lawn chair and enjoy the celebration!

The final touches of the on-island Riverbend Park boat launch and parking area wrapped up the end of last week. Planning for the overhaul began in 2010 and work started in 2014. Finishing this project marked the end of the major construction overhaul at the recreation site.

Two final projects, the renovation of the on-island water system and wastewater-treatment plant, will conclude throughout the year. Completion of these projects will put the final stamp on the $35 million renovation of this popular recreation area. These costs are offset in part by monthly rent received from more than 400 leases to Grant PUD for island homes and condos. The island residents will also reimburse Grant PUD for the bulk of the costs associated with the new water and wastewater systems.

Ribbon Cutting Schedule:

11:30 a.m. – noon / Ribbon Cutting Ceremony. Featuring special remarks from:

  • Terry Brewer – Grant PUD Commission President
  • Doug Picatti – Greater Crescent Bar Association President
  • Randy Hoefer – Representative of on-island HOA’s
  • Kevin Nordt – Grant PUD General Manager
  • Jeff Grizzel, Grant PUD Environmental Affairs

Noon – 1 p.m. / Taste of Crescent Bar
Refreshments and food samples by Crescent Bar restaurant vendors

1 p.m. – 1:30 p.m. / Rock Talk: Geology of the Crescent Bar area
CWU Professor Nick Zentner at Riverbend Park Picnic Shelter

1:30 p.m. – 3 p.m. / Crescent Bar Recreation Area tours and boat rides
Free pontoon boat rides and walking tours

Grant PUD operates 20 recreation sites along its stretch of the river from a few miles below Rock Island Dam to the Hanford Reach. These recreation sites include five campgrounds, 10 free-to-use boat launches, multiple day-use areas and two different interactive learning centers. Each location is a short drive from anywhere within Grant County.

Since 2010, Grant PUD has invested more than $54 million to enhance Columbia River recreation.  These efforts not only allow Grant PUD to meet its federal requirements, they also support the county’s local communities. More than 345,000 people visit Grant PUD recreation sites each year. These visitors contribute more than $34 million annually to the local economy.

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New connection policy to protect core customers and provide certainty

“Evolving Industry” rate class will address deluge of cryptocurrency power requests

EPHRATA — Grant PUD commissioners unanimously agreed Tuesday to move forward to create a new customer rate class for cryptocurrency miners that would protect the interests of the utility’s existing customers.

By adopting this policy, the board also affirmed its position that core customer groups – residential, irrigation and commercial customers – will continue to be first in line for access to the benefits of low-cost energy generated at Grant PUD’s hydro facilities. The policy also creates a priority status for traditional commercial and industrial customers who are waiting for power service. The new “Evolving Industry” rate class provides more certainty of costs and waiting periods to the large number of cryptocurrency firms interested in service.

With the new plan, cryptocurrency firms would pay a rate — to be determined — that covers both Grant PUD’s cost to provide their electricity and any elevated risks they pose to the utility’s other customers.  Similar to the pricing for current large industrial customers, the new policy requires these emerging businesses to pay more, so core residential, irrigation and commercial customers can continue to pay below-cost rates. Evolving Industry customers would cover extra costs if Grant PUD has to pay more to bring additional power resources into the county to serve their load.

By July 1, Grant PUD plans to begin processing applications for traditional commercial and industrial customers, who have been waiting for electrical service since last fall while staff developed this new policy. The utility is expected to implement the new Evolving Industry rate class by Aug. 1.

“Electric service infrastructure is limited and lead times are long to build system capacity,” said Commission President Terry Brewer. “This new rate class and policy will ensure traditional industry gets the power it needs, and our core customers will continue to receive the economic benefits of our power generation going well into the future. It also keeps the door open for potentially promising new technologies.”

A product of six months of research and analysis, the new Evolving Industry rate would apply to businesses:

  • Whose primary revenue stream is evolving and unproven.
  • Whose ability to pay power rates long term is uncertain or at risk, compared to traditional customer classes.
  • Who are vulnerable to extreme value fluctuations of their primary output.
  • Who are at risk for detrimental changes in regulation.
  • Who could become part of a large concentration of power demand in Grant PUD’s service area.

Early on, cryptocurrency firms likely will be the only members of the Evolving Industry customer class, but the class will apply to all businesses that meet the same proposed risk criteria.

Evolving Industry customers would be placed in a secondary waiting queue for service and traditional commercial and industrial customers’ applications will be processed first. Evolving Industry customers would also pay an application fee and expenses to reimburse engineering costs, plus up-front costs to cover infrastructure upgrades needed to serve them.

Since summer 2017, Grant PUD has received an unprecedented 125 new service requests that total above 2,000 megawatts of electricity. This is more than three times the electricity needed to power all Grant County homes, farms, businesses and industry. One average megawatt of electricity provides enough energy to serve about 450 homes in Grant County. Approximately 75 percent of these requests are from cryptocurrency firms.

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Commission Meeting Recap May 8, 2018

DURING TUESDAY’S MEETING COMMISSIONERS

– Grant PUD commissioners unanimously agreed on May 8 to move forward to create a new customer rate class for cryptocurrency miners that would protect the interests of the utility’s existing customers. (Discussion and vote begins at the 3:07:43 on commission recording)

By adopting this policy, the board also affirmed its position that core irrigation, residential and commercial customer groups –– will continue to be first in line for access to the benefits of low-cost energy generated at Grant PUD’s hydro facilities. The policy also creates a priority status for traditional commercial and industrial customers who are waiting for power service. The new “Evolving Industry” rate class provides more certainty of costs and waiting periods to the large number of cryptocurrency firms interested in service.

“I think it’s important that we adopt this resolution … at this time we haven’t defined the rate yet or the particulars of the class policy, but setting aside a new class is important so that we can go ahead with our traditional lines of business, the existing agricultural processing and large industrial sector etcetera,” said commission president Terry Brewer.  “People that have had growth plans before us for two or three years will be able to move forward while we put the (Evolving Industry) policy together. The thing that we’re all concerned about is protecting the district from any adverse risk and at the same time allowing our traditional customer base to function and grow as they intend to.”

With the new plan, cryptocurrency firms would pay a rate — to be determined — that covers both Grant PUD’s cost to provide their electricity and any elevated risks they pose to the utility’s other customers.  Similar to the pricing for current large industrial customers, the new policy requires these emerging businesses to pay more, so core residential, irrigation and commercial customers can continue to pay below-cost rates. Evolving Industry customers would cover extra costs if Grant PUD has to pay more to bring additional power resources into the county to serve their load.

By July 1, Grant PUD plans to begin processing applications for traditional commercial and industrial customers, who have been waiting for electrical service since last fall, while staff developed this new policy. The utility is expected to implement the new Evolving Industry rate class by Aug. 1.

A product of six months of research and analysis, the new Evolving Industry rate would apply to businesses:

  • Whose primary revenue stream is evolving and unproven.
  • Whose ability to pay power rates long term is uncertain or at risk, compared to traditional customer classes.
  • Who are vulnerable to extreme value fluctuations of their primary output.
  • Who are at risk for detrimental changes in regulation.
  • Who could become part of a large concentration of power demand in Grant PUD’s service area.

Early on, cryptocurrency firms will likely be the only members of the Evolving Industry customer class, but the class will apply to all businesses that meet the same proposed risk criteria.

Evolving Industry customers would be placed in a secondary waiting queue for service and traditional commercial and industrial customers’ applications will be processed first. As with Industrial rate class customers, Evolving Industry customers would also pay an application fee and expenses to reimburse engineering costs, plus up-front costs to cover infrastructure upgrades needed to serve them.

Since summer 2017, Grant PUD has received an unprecedented 125 new service requests that total above 2,000 megawatts of electricity. This is more than three times the electricity needed to power all Grant County homes, farms, businesses and industry. One average megawatt of electricity provides enough energy to serve about 450 homes in Grant County. Approximately 75 percent of these requests are from cryptocurrency firms.

 In other business:

Commissioners approved a change order with North Sky Communications, increasing the not-to-exceed price by $4 million for a new contract total of $5.9 million for work to install fiber optic service in the fiber build out areas in northern Moses Lake and George. (03:14:00)

Approved a contract change order with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife to increase the contract price by $324,580 for a new maximum contract price of $2.338 million and extend the term from July 1, 2018 through June 30, 2019. The work is for monitoring and evaluation studies to fulfill Grant PUD’s obligations for fall Chinook salmon propagation at the Priest Rapids Hatchery. (03:15:18)

The commission also received reports about the following topics:

  • A quarterly financial budget update (0:56:30pages 1-15)
  • A review of the 10-year anniversary of Grant PUD’s license from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission for the Priest Rapids Project (01:32:30pages 16-44)
  • An introduction and recognition for the Grant PUD’s Safety Continuous Improvement Team (02:07:40pages 45-55)
  • A semi-annual internal audit report (03:26:00pages 56-65)
  • A legislative report from external affairs (03:51:00pages 66-73)

Next commission meeting: June 12, Ephrata Headquarters

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Recap: Commission Workshop May 7, 2018

Monday’s commission workshop was a culmination of six months of research and analysis. The workshop occurred to provide commissioners with an in-depth look at how staff is proposing to address the influx of cryptocurrency firms interested in electrical hookups throughout Grant County.

Since just last summer, Grant PUD has obtained an unprecedented number of new service requests.  To date, the utility has received more than 125 new service requests totally more than 2,000 megawatts of electricity.  Approximately 75 percent of this interest is from Cryptocurrency companies. This type of demand forced Grant PUD to stop accepting applications for new industrial hookups until a solution could be developed. (Background discussion begins at 6:50 )

To address this situation, a new “Evolving Industry” rate class is being proposed. The workshop covered the details regarding the new rate class, including the following highlights: (Discussion begins 47:00 – pages 6-29 of the packet)

  • Developing a new rate – yet to be determined – that covers Grant PUD’s cost to provide electricity as well as include additional fees to cover any elevated risks evolving industries pose to other customers.
  • Implementing a policy that if the customer causes a cost, then they will bear a cost. Currently customers only pay for the capacity they request. This can lead to stranded costs for Grant PUD by customers underutilizing infrastructure. The new recommendation would require large customers to pay the full cost of any expansion efforts needed to support their load request. (For example: if a new substation needed to be built, the customer would pay for the construction of the entire substation even if they didn’t use all of its capacity. Staff is also exploring options to reimburse customers who pay for excess infrastructure capacity that would later be used by other customers.)
  • Initiating application fees for customers in the Evolving Industry rate class, as well as other industrial rate classes. Currently there are no application fees. By establishing a fee schedule based on the anticipated megawatt usage will allow Grant PUD to cover any upfront engineering and planning costs. The application fees will be based on a megawatt differentiator as defined in the presentation.
  • Creating a secondary waiting queue for evolving industry customers. Grant PUD would not process Evolving Industry requests for inclusion in this new customer class until all traditional customer applications are first addressed.

Details were also provided regarding the revamped guidelines for distribution and transmission infrastructure planning that are nearly complete.  (Discussion begins 1:52:05 – pages 30-34 of the packet)

  • Key elements of the guidelines include load limits for distribution equipment to ensure the system is operating at industry standards which allows staff to effectively operate and maintain the efficiency of the system.
  • The guidelines establishes a new transmission philosophy that the 230kv transmission system is the backbone of Grant PUD’s delivery operation. It provides parameters for how to best ensure redundancy throughout the system to better serve those with higher voltage loads.

Residential cryptocurrency operations were discussed in the workshop. Public safety is the number one concern with any home/small business cyrptocurrency operation.  It is also imperative that Grant PUD protects its equipment.  Energy services will monitoring loads that appear to show abnormal load factors that may potentially threaten Grant PUD equipment.  If a concern is discovered, Energy Services will contact the customer notifying them of their responsibility to replace any damaged equipment. If needed, the policy would allow the disconnecting of those customers that are posing a risk and to charge them for any costs needed to move them to their own dedicated equipment.  (Discussion begins 2:46:50 – pages 35-42 of the packet)

The workshop concluded with a review and discussion of the rate setting policy. With the purpose of that presentation to provide clarification on existing rate setting policies, and clarify how the policy has been applied. (Discussion begins 3:18:40 – pages 43-50 of the packet).

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Commission meeting recap April 24, 2018

DURING TUESDAY’S MEETING COMMISSIONERS

-Heard about a proposed new customer class that would give all traditional commercial and industrial customers priority status for power hookups. (1:27:30 commission audio)

The proposed new “Evolving Industry” customer class would provide increased certainty to the large number of cryptocurrency firms interested in hookups, Dave Churchman, Grant PUD’s chief customer officer, told commissioners.

The proposed customer class would ensure these firms pay a rate — to be determined — that covers both the cost to provide their electricity and the elevated risk they pose to Grant PUD. It also ensures these emerging businesses pay more, so core residential, irrigation and commercial customers can continue to pay below-cost rates.

Commissioners are expected to vote during their next meeting on May 8 on the proposed policy that would move the PUD toward creating the new customer class.

A product of six months of research and analysis, the Evolving Industry would apply to businesses:

  • Whose primary revenue stream is evolving and unproven.
  • Whose ability to pay power rates long term is uncertain or at risk, compared to traditional customer classes.
  • Who are vulnerable to extreme value fluctuations of their primary output.
  • Who are at risk for detrimental changes in regulation.
  • Who could become part of a large concentration of power demand in Grant PUD’s service area.

Early on, cryptocurrency firms likely will be the only members of the Evolving Industry customer class, but the class will apply to all businesses that meet the same proposed risk criteria.

Evolving Industry customers would be placed in a secondary waiting queue for service hookups. Grant PUD would not process service requests in this new customer class until all traditional customer applications are addressed.

Evolving Industry customers, new and existing, would pay a rate that covers:

  • Grant PUD’s cost to serve them.
  • The extra risk they pose as an emerging industry.
  • An “extra cost” — as all industrial customers pay — to help Grant PUD sustain below-cost rates for its core irrigation, residential and commercial customers.

The new rate class would align with Resolution 8768 (May 12, 2015), which defines Grant PUD’s approach to rate setting and the goal that by 2024 no industrial customer will pay more than 15 percent above their cost of service.

Evolving Industry customers would pay an application fee and fees to cover engineering costs. They’d pay up-front the costs to cover infrastructure upgrades needed to serve them.

Since summer 2017, Grant PUD has received an unprecedented 125 new service requests that total more than 2,000 megawatts of electricity. This is approximately four times the electricity needed to power all Grant County homes, businesses, government institutions and industry. One average megawatt of electricity provides enough energy to serve approximately 450 homes in Grant County.

Approximately 75 percent of these requests are from cryptocurrency firms.

The deluge of requests exposed serious deficiencies in Grant PUD’s current “first in, first out” customer-connection policies.

Utility officials agreed to stop accepting applications for new industrial hookups until staff proposed solutions. Staff hopes to develop a rate, create separate waiting queues for traditional and evolving customer classes by July 1 and transition to the new Evolving Industry rate class by Aug. 1.

The audience at Tuesday’s commission meeting included cryptocurrency miners who were in the request queue for a power hookup and members of the public who seek more control of the miners to set up their mining computers in residential areas with distribution infrastructure unable to handle for the machine’s huge energy draw.

“Churchman is putting together a fine program,” said Moses Lake resident Dick Deane, who said he lives next door to a mining operation with noisy cooling fans the operate around the clock, blowing hot air into his bedroom window. (Grant PUD staffers said after the meeting that the amount of power used by this customer is not out of the ordinary and poses no safety risk to others or Grant PUD power infrastructure.)

Deane urged Grant PUD to work together with the City of Moses Lake to crack down on the clandestine operations. “What we’re facing here is a tsunami. We’re here to blow the whistle.”

Deane’s neighbor Douglas Sly agreed. “Cryptocurrency operations are threatening Grant County’s economy,” Sly said. “They’re sucking the value out of Grant County, because Grant County PUD has the low rates.”

Heard expansion plans for Grant PUD fiber-optic network expansion in 2018. Senior Managers of Wholesale Fiber, Russ Brethower and Tom Stredwick announced during staff reports that this year’s expansion will bring an additional 1,400 residents and businesses access in Moses Lake and George. (1:52:55 commission audio)

The expansion in Moses Lake will extend the fiber availability into northern portions of Moses Lake from East Wheeler Road to Road 10 NE. The new expansion in George will bring service to the remaining residents and businesses of the city without fiber access. Construction is expected to begin in May or June. The expansion comes after commissioners allocated an additional $7 million from financial reserves toward the wholesale fiber-optic program in late 2017.

Commissioners have committed to extending fiber-optic connectivity to all residents of Grant County. The timing of ongoing expansion will be based on the overall financial strength of the utility going forward.

According to the Federal Communications Commission’s 2016 Broadband Progress Report (FCC), over 23 million rural individuals lack access to a broadband internet connection. As state and federal legislators wrestle with how best to bridge the digital divide that exists in rural America, Grant PUD is closing the rural gap by expanding world-class fiber-optic connectivity to all residents and businesses of Grant County.

Fiber service is currently available to about 70 percent of county residents and businesses. To connect to Grant PUD’s High Speed Network.

Chief Financial Officer, Jeff Bishop, followed up with a presentation discussing the goal of finishing the expansion project and how the determination will be made each year on whether the expansion of the fiber network will continue.  The annual Go/No-Go assessment will be based on the fiber program’s ability to meet its programs financial metrics and overall health of the District.  (Begins 2:30:50 on commission Audio)

In other action, commissioners:

Approved a resolution amending the 2018 strategic plan for Grant PUD.  The strategic plan is reviewed by the commission every six months to assess the progress made towards company goals and identify future steps. Slight variations may occur during the review process and when formal action for approval is needed to revise the plan the changes are done via a resolution.  (Commission Audio 3:30:35)

Unanimously approved salary and benefit increases for Grant PUD General Manager Kevin Nordt and General Counsel Mitch Delabarre. Effective May 4, Nordt will receive a one-time addition of 15 days of personal leave and a 5-percent salary increase to $292,032 annually, up from his former salary of $278,110. Delabarre will receive a one-time addition of three days of personal leave and a 3-percent salary increase to $259,740 per year, up from his former salary of $252,116 annually.

“A rigorous set of goals and objectives were laid out for these gentlemen this year. We all concurred that the performance of both the general manager and general counsel were above expectations,” Commission President Terry Brewer said.

Commissioner Bob Bernd said the increase moves Nordt into the “lower quartile” of what general managers at like-sized utilities are earning, according to a recent industry survey.  (Commission Audio 3:31:35)

Unanimously approved a 15-year contract with the Yakama Nation to hatch, raise and release coho salmon to achieve “No Net Impact” designation for coho migrating through Priest Rapids and Wanapum Dams. The change increases the contract amount by $14 million for a new contract total of $21.3 million for expanded services. The Yakamas’ contract work has helped Grant PUD save approximately $9 million by getting federal approval to do fish-survival “check-in” studies every 10 years instead of every five years.  The Bonneville Power Administration and Chelan PUD also contract with the Yakamas’ for their coho salmon work.  Historically Grant PUD has contributed to approximately 15% of the total cost of the contract that all three organizations have with the Yakamas. (Commission Audio 3:40:30)

Unanimously agreed to authorize the general manager to execute a 6-month contract with Avangrid Renewables (formerly Iberdrola) for a 10-percent slice of Grant PUD’s share of output at Wanapum and Priest Rapids dams. The new deal takes effect July 1, 2018 and continues a very similar deal that’s set to expire. (Commission Audio 3:45:40)

Other Meeting Highlights, commissioners:

Learned some good news about the Priest Rapids spillway from Chief Operating Officer Kevin Marshall. Contract crews have drilled 80 holes to pin down the points where water is leaking into the spillway structure. They plan to drill 220 more holes over the next couple of months to analyze all 22 spillway monoliths. So far, only some of the holes drilled in monoliths 17-20 are showing signs of leakage. All others are dry. The holes will remain there to aid drainage, Marshall said. No repair plan has yet been developed.

Learned that Grant PUD received a virtually clean 2017 annual audit by independent firm PWC (PricewaterhouseCoopers). The firm will release its final summary later this week. Auditors uncovered two errors. The first was cash mistake in 2016 that wrongly recorded a $3.2 million cash inflow as an operational activity instead of a financing activity. The firm did not require a fix. The second involved a miscalculation of interest expense totaling $1.4 million. The error has already been corrected. (Commission Audio 3:02:30)

Heard that Grant PUD’s Power Delivery team contains three new engineers, is looking for a fourth and three more linemen. The team is working well to clear a backlog of needed system maintenance that has resulted from the utility’s rapid growth since 2008. “That’s kind of our Achilles heel right now,” Mike Tongue, senior manager of Power Delivery Construction and Maintenance, told commissioners. Commission President Terry Brewer said industrial customers count on a reliable system when they agree to locate in the county and expect good maintenance. “I don’t want to argue,” Brewer said of the maintenance backlog, “I just want it to change going forward.” (Commission Audio 4:03:30)

Review items for next business meeting, May 8.

-Reviewed a proposed change Order No. 7 to increase by $324,580 the contract price of $2.34 million with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife for Priest Rapids Hatchery fish monitoring and evaluation from July 2018 through June 2019. The change order is necessary to meet Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) license requirements for fall Chinook salmon artificial propagation, monitoring and evaluation.

-Reviewed a motion that would increase a contract with North Sky Communications of Kent, Washington by $4 million for a new contract total of $5.9 million. The increase will fund expansion into George and Moses Lake of Grant PUD’s fiber-optic network this year.

Important dates:

May 7 – Commission Workshop to discuss proposed “Emerging Industry” rate class for cryptocurrency and other businesses with inherent higher business risk for Grant PUD and its customers. Ephrata Headquarters Commission Room, 12:30 p.m.

Next commission meeting: May 8, Ephrata Headquarters

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Grant PUD fiber-optic network expansion moves ahead in 2018

Additional 1,400 residents and businesses to get access in Moses Lake and George

EPHRATA, Wash. – Approximately 1,400 Grant County residents and businesses are a step closer to receiving fiber optic internet service this year. Grant PUD staff announced fiber buildout locations in portions of the Moses Lake and George areas to commissioners today during their normal business meeting.

The expansion in the Moses Lake area will extend the fiber availability from Road 4 NE to Road 12 NE. The new expansion in George will bring service to the remaining residents and businesses of the city without fiber access. Construction in the Moses Lake area is expected to begin in May or June. The expansion comes after commissioners allocated an additional $7 million from financial reserves toward the wholesale fiber-optic program in late 2017.

Commissioners have committed to extending fiber-optic connectivity to all residents of Grant County. The timing of ongoing expansion will be based on the overall financial strength of the utility going forward.

According to the Federal Communications Commission’s 2016 Broadband Progress Report (FCC), over 23 million rural individuals lack access to a broadband internet connection. As state and federal legislators wrestle with how best to bridge the digital divide that exists in rural America, Grant PUD is closing the rural gap by expanding world-class fiber-optic connectivity to all residents and businesses of Grant County.

Fiber service is currently available to about 70 percent of county residents and businesses. To connect to Grant PUD’s High Speed Network, visit grantpud.org and select one of the local service providers.

The areas in green are expansion locations. Areas in purple are existing fiber areas.

George Expansion – The areas in green are expansion locations. Areas in purple are existing fiber areas.

The areas in green are expansion locations. Areas in purple are existing fiber areas.

Moses Lake expansion – The areas in green are expansion locations. Areas in purple are existing fiber areas.

 

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Crews Continue Inspection of Priest Rapids Dam Spillway Monoliths

Grant PUD officials expect analysis to continue for the next several weeks

Crews continue investigating the leakage discovered in spillway monoliths at Priest Rapids Dam. Initial analysis shows that a disbonded lift joint is the source of the leakage. A lift joint is the area between two concrete blocks poured at different times.  A monolith is the structure that supports the piers holding up the spillway gates.

Priest Rapids Dam continues to generate electricity and operations continue as usual. There is no threat to property or people.  The monoliths are stable, but do merit further investigation.

The monolith lift joint has lost some of its bonding, resulting in the leakage of three to four gallons a minute, which has been detected by the investigative drilling.  This leakage has been found through the same lift joint near the base of four of the 22 spillway monoliths.

To date, inspection drilling has occurred through about half of the spillway and will continue throughout the remaining monoliths.  This is anticipated to continue into May. The spillway structure is stable and no movement has been detected in the structure.  Once the investigation and analysis are complete, Grant PUD officials will make a determination on what, if any, remedies are needed beyond the drilling. The inspection drilling is reducing pressure from the water inflow through the disbonded area of the lift joint.

Late last month, out of an abundance of caution, Grant PUD officials declared a non-failure emergency at Priest Rapids Dam.  This was discovered after inspection drilling revealed the leaking in spillway monoliths.

Grant PUD has reduced reservoir elevation behind the dam by approximately three feet.  This is still within the normal operating range while inspection work continues. Priest Rapids Reservoir will be held to operating elevations between 484.5 to 481.5 feet above sea level. The maximum reservoir elevation is 488.0 feet. The reservoir will remain at the lowered level at least until the inspection work is complete.

Established by local residents over 75 years ago, Grant PUD generates and delivers energy to millions of customers throughout the Pacific Northwest. What began as a grassroots movement of public power has evolved into one of the premiere providers of renewable energy at some of the most affordable rates in the nation. For more information visit www.grantpud.org or follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

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April 10: Commission Meeting Recap

DURING TUESDAY’S MEETING COMMISSIONERS

-Unanimously approved a $2.8 million increase to the contract with Voith Hydro Inc. and an extension of 15 days, bringing the total revised contract maximum to $14.3 million. Voith is a contractor on an approximately 10-year project to rehabilitate the 10 turbine/generator units at Priest Rapids Dam. This change is the result of lessons learned rehabbing the first of the dam’s units. Rehab of the second unit is currently underway. Staff believes the revised work will be needed on all remaining units. Revisions are related to weld adjustments, welding materials needed, increased anchor installations and changes in pricing for materials to rehab each unit’s water passages. (2:26:08 on the audio recording and page 10, of the Commission packet).

Unanimously approved a change order for the extension of services with Northwest Open Access Network (NoaNet) for an additional $209,880 to allow a one-year extension in their existing contract to provide support of our fiber optic system. Specifically continuing 24×7 monitoring of the Merchant Wholesale Telecom System and Network Operation Center Services.  An annual change order is done to meet the requirements for contract within fiber optic rate schedules 100 and 120. (2:28:50 on the recording and pages 20-26 of commission packet)

During Reports to the Commission:

Commissioners Heard first-quarter Power Production results from Managing Director of Power Production Rich Wallen. Turbine/generator units were available to produce power 86.6 percent of the time at Priest Rapids Dam, January through March, up from 84.7 percent of the time during the same period in 2017, Wallen said. Unit availability at Wanapum Dam also increased slightly to 86.3 percent during Q1. Units are unavailable when they’re down for maintenance, upgrades or repairs.

Wallen pointed to an unexpected outage of Unit P09 at Priest Rapids Dam, the first of dam’s 10 units to be refurbished. The unit was completed, but taken out of service unexpectedly for nine days for follow-up repairs. The unit is has been back in service for 10 days. Wallen said lessons learned from the project, including disassembly, control of tools and parts, cleaning and wear and tear, will help crews with rehab of the remaining nine. Contract crews from Voith Hydro are already at work on the next unit to be rehabbed, P02.

Rehab efforts at Priest Rapids Dam are focused on rebuilding or refurbishing existing parts, rather than purchasing new parts. Project planners expect this strategy will save $55 million to $77 million in total cost for all 10 units. (Staff presentation page 1 and audio begins 1:18:30)

Commissioners received a quarterly business report from Shannon Lowry, Lands and Recreation Manager. Continued construction work at Crescent Bar and preparation for the heart of the recreation season highlighted the update. Construction at Crescent Bar’s on-island Riverbend Park Boat Launch and parking area is scheduled for completion by Memorial Day weekend. As the group gets ready for the peak of the recreation season this summer, seasonal workers and interns are also in process of joining the staff as well.

Initial interest in campsites at the recreation areas this season appears to be very high, as more than $45,000 worth of reservations have already been pre-sold for the 2018 recreation season. Visitors can make online reservations for the Priest Rapids Recreation Area, Sand Hollow and Crescent Bar Recreation Area.

As part of Grant PUD’s responsibility within its federal license to monitor and report recreation throughout the project, Lands and Recreation will also undertake completing two different surveys this year. The last survey was completed in 2015.  The first phase of the survey work will be impact monitoring. This portion will measure how users are using the recreation areas and to determine what if any rehab or restoration work is necessary.

The second phase will involve in-person surveys. These surveys are scheduled to occur throughout a defined portion of the summer. The goal is to gather insights from at least 200 respondents and see how people feel about Grant PUD’s recreation sites.  One of the specific items they will be looking to identify are primary zip codes of those interviewed and whether or not they pay a Grant PUD electric bill.   (Staff presentation page 17 and audio begins 1:46:45)

Commissioners Thanked Grant PUD line crews for long hours and quick, safe work restoring power in February to three large industrial customers in Moses Lake. The three industrials, Chemi Con, Geni and SGL employ hundreds of people over multiple shifts. Crews got the three up and running in less than 24 hours, despite extensive repairs. The cause of the outage was never determined.

“During this whole ordeal, we were getting regular updates every two hours or so,” said Commissioner Bob Bernd to the gathered linemen. He added, to laughter, “But, you know, at 11 p.m. I went to bed. I read the next update in the morning and I said, ‘Job well done and congratulations, and thank you on behalf of our customers and ourselves.”

Other Meeting Highlights, commissioners:

Heard a review of action expected at the next commission meeting April 24 on Grant PUD’s amended Strategic Plan – a roadmap that describes performance objectives and how to achieve them.

Heard a review of plans to extend for 15 years an existing contract with the Yakama Nation to hatch, raise and release coho salmon to achieve “No Net Impact” designation for coho migrating through Priest Rapids and Wanapum Dams. The change increases the contract amount by $14 million for a new contract total of $21.3 million for expanded services. The Yakamas’ contract work has helped Grant PUD save approximately $9 million by getting federal approval to do fish-survival “check-in” studies every 10 years instead of every five years.

Reviewed a motion set for vote at the April 24 commission meeting to execute a new contract with Avangrid Renewables (formerly Iberdrola) for a 10-percent slice of the Grant PUD’s share of output of Wanapum and Priest Rapids dams for six months, starting July 1, 2018. Terms are similar to the current contract.

Upcoming meetings:

Next commission meeting: April 24

Executive meeting with commissioners May 7 to discuss new service requests and emerging technologies

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Priest Rapids reservoir lowered for spillway inspection

priest rapids

Grant PUD officials declare a non-failure emergency

Out of an abundance of caution, Grant PUD officials have declared a non-failure emergency at Priest Rapids Dam, after inspection drilling revealed leaking in spillway monoliths. Grant PUD will reduce reservoir elevation behind the dam to normal operating minimums while inspection work continues.

Priest Rapids Dam will continue to generate electricity. Dam operations will continue as usual. There is no threat to life or property. The Priest Rapids Reservoir will be held to operating elevations between 484.5 to 481.5 feet above sea level. This is within the lower end of the normal operating range. The maximum reservoir elevation is 488.0 feet.

The leaking in the spillway structure was discovered by a contract crew drilling inspection holes. The reservoir will remain at the lowered level at least until the inspection work is finished.

The issue is different than the one at Wanapum Dam in 2014, when a fracture was found on the spillway. That repair required a prolonged reservoir drawdown. Wanapum Dam has since been completely repaired.

The Priest Rapids spillway monoliths are stable, but merit further investigation. The dam has 22 spillway monoliths. A monolith is the expanse of concrete below each of the dam’s spill gates.

Crews will drill inspection holes downward from an internal passageway called “the grout gallery” that runs the length of the spillway. When the drilling is finished, Grant PUD will devise a repair strategy, if necessary, once analysis is complete.

The investigation and drilling at Priest Rapids Dam is precautionary work after completing the repair at Wanapum Dam in 2015. Grant PUD will provide updates as information becomes available.

Priest Rapids Dam is on the Columbia River near the town of Mattawa. Wanapum Dam is 19 miles upriver of Priest Rapids.

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Commission meeting recap: Microsoft announces $200,000 contribution for fiber buildout to George

Microsoft officials announced during the commission meeting in Beverly on March 27 that the company is making a $200,000 contribution toward building out wholesale fiber optic service to residents in the City of George.

Paul Englis, of Microsoft, told the commissioners that his company as an organization has a desire to give back to the community, pointing out that last year the company’s philanthropies donated approximately $1.7 billion in money and goods globally. The George project was selected after months of discussion with Grant PUD staff, including now senior wholesale fiber business managers Thomas Stredwick and Russ Brethower, because it was seen as a location that can help Microsoft bridge the gap for folks who don’t have broadband access in their community.

“We want to help close that gap,” Englis said. “This project in George is one of the ways we can help with that. And aligning with local partners, such as Grant PUD, is how we want to go about it. We see ourselves as being a catalyst to help you be even more successful in what you are already doing.”

He added that George was selected because it was identified as the last incorporated community in Grant County that does not have fiber service. The need is great to help provide for community development and better educational opportunities for those living in the city of 500 people.

“You hear heartbreaking stories of mothers who, at night, load up their children in the family car so they can do their homework by using the free wifi in the library parking lot,” Englis said. “We want to help provide better opportunities for those families so they can improve their lives.”

He added that Microsoft is also looking to address issues in the county where families do have the opportunity to access broadband service but they do not have the resources to make connections to the service.

Commission president Terry Brewer said he and the board are grateful for Microsoft’s contribution to the fiber network buildout.

“We are really appreciative of your offer and we look forward to working with you to make bringing fiber to George a reality.”

Last fall, the commissioners approved $7 million toward fiber buildout in the county. Grant PUD’s wholesale fiber optic managers and staff have been working on a plan for building out fiber not only to George, but also to other areas of the county and are expected to announce those plans in the next few weeks.

In other business:

  • Commissioners approved a $1.356 million contract with Aronson Security Group for the supply, installation and commissioning of a Genetec electronic access control and video management system. The new system will help improve security at Grant PUD facilities.
  • Commissioners heard a request from Warren Morgan, of Double Diamond Fruit Co. in Quincy, to change policy so his new apple-packing facility will have power before apple harvest begins this fall. Morgan said that he had expanded his business and planned for power service to be ready for him this year and was told that his project would be delayed while the utility completes its infrastructure study related to large load requests. Commissioners Flint and Brewer said they would work with Grant PUD staff to make sure that Morgan’s requests and others from growers are addressed quickly and will not be significantly delayed.
  • Approved paying a claim totaling $6,890.76 to Harry Anderson for damage to his sewer line, which was caused by a fiber-installation contractor in 2006. The damage was not detected until Jan. 26, 2018.
  • Heard a presentation from Richard Flanigan, Senior Manager of Wholesale Marketing Supply, and Paul Dietz, Senior Quantitative Analyst, regarding a proposed 10 percent slice sale of Priest Rapids Project Output for six months to Avangrid (formerly Iberdrola). The slice sale is projected to net Grant PUD about $1.5 million over the six-month period, Flanigan stated.
  • Other reports to the commission included a report from the CIT3 Team, Security Report, Safety and Health Improvement Report and Public Power/Industry Outreach Activity Report. All reports materials be found here: http://grantpud.org/component/edocman/3075-presentation-materials.
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Microsoft helps bring high-speed internet to George

Funding will help bring additional connectivity to customers and businesses through fiber service

EPHRATA, Wash. – Microsoft will contribute $200,000 for the buildout of Grant PUD’s wholesale fiber-optic network in the George area, Grant PUD commissioners learned Tuesday.

Since 2006, when it opened a data center in Quincy, Microsoft has supported community projects in Grant County, from human services, to environmental programs, and beyond. “The City of George is the only incorporated city in Grant County that does not have access to fiber-optic service, and we’re eager to help change that,” said Mike Miles, General Manager, Microsoft Cloud Infrastructure and Operations (MCIO), whose community development team is working in partnership with Grant County PUD.

Microsoft’s contribution is a benefit to not only those living in George but for customers throughout Grant County, said commission president Terry Brewer. “With this partnership, we can bring our wholesale fiber-optic service to the community of George and also maximize our resources to expand fiber optic service in other locations in the county,” Brewer said. “We are excited about this partnership and that we are able to achieve our mutual goal of bringing high quality fiber optic service to more customers in Grant County.”

“High-speed internet is rapidly transforming how we work, farm, and educate our children,” said Lisa Karstetter, manager Microsoft TechSpark Washington, a program that fosters greater economic opportunity and job creation. “It’s Microsoft’s privilege to help bring broadband to residents and businesses in our community.”

Fiber service is available to about 70 percent of Grant PUD’s customers. In the coming weeks, Grant PUD will finalize its schedule for deploying fiber optic service to George and announce plans for fiber expansion to other areas in the county. Grant PUD’s commissioners set aside $7 million in the 2018 budget for fiber-optic expansion.

To learn more about getting connected to Grant PUD’s high speed network, visit grantpud.org/customer-service/high-speed-network.

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Established by local residents over 75 years ago, Grant PUD generates and delivers energy to millions of customers throughout the Pacific Northwest. What began as a grassroots movement of public power has evolved into one of the premiere providers of renewable energy at some of the most affordable rates in the nation. For more information visit www.grantpud.org or follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

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Grant PUD Commissioners set rates for 2018

New rate will increase average monthly residential power bill by $1.49

EPHRATA — Grant PUD commissioners Tuesday approved the next of a proposed series of small, annual electric-rate increases that will generate an estimated 2-percent more revenue over 12 months. New rates take effect April 1.

The increase aligns with commissioners’ strategy of small, predictable rate increases over time that protect core customers, including residential and irrigation, from less-frequent, double-digit increases.

Customers have said this is their preferred strategy to help keep Grant PUD on a sustainable financial path with outstanding service reliability, while keeping rates as low as possible.

“Careful, data-based planning, budgeting and spending are critical to sustain financial strength and provide outstanding service and value for our customers,” Commission President Terry Brewer said after the vote. “These rate increases are critical to cover needed capital upgrades at our dams and substations and plan for the future at a time when wholesale market prices for our surplus power have declined.”

The increase generates $3.8 million in revenue. Each rate will increase by the following:

Rates Capture2Commissioners in 2013 approved a policy (Resolution 8690, 10/7/2013) of small, predictable increases with the objective of adjusting rates over time until no customer class pays more than 20 percent below nor 15 percent above the cost to provide electric service by 2024. They affirmed this policy in 2015 (Resolution 8768).

The resolutions define residential, general service, large general service and irrigators, as “core customers” who, will continue to benefit with rates as much as 20 percent below the cost to provide their power.

Contact: publicaffairs@gcpud.org / (509) 754-5035

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Commission Meeting Recap: Commissioners set rates for 2018 and more

Grant PUD Commissioners set rates for 2018 (2:47:30)

New rate will increase average monthly residential power bill by $1.49

Grant PUD commissioners Tuesday approved the next of a proposed series of small, annual electric-rate increases that will generate an estimated 2-percent more revenue over 12 months. New rates take effect April 1.

The increase aligns with commissioners’ strategy of small, predictable rate increases over time that protect core customers, including residential and irrigation, from less-frequent, double-digit increases.

Customers have said this is their preferred strategy to help keep Grant PUD on a sustainable financial path with outstanding service reliability, while keeping rates as low as possible.

“Careful, data-based planning, budgeting and spending are critical to sustain financial strength and provide outstanding service and value for our customers,” Commission President Terry Brewer said after the vote. “These rate increases are critical to cover needed capital upgrades at our dams and substations and plan for the future at a time when wholesale market prices for our surplus power have declined.”

The increase generates $3.8 million in revenue. Each rate will increase by the following:

Rates Capture2

*Bill increases for industrial customers are based on too many factors to be characterized by a single average figure.

**These columns show the rate currently paid as a percentage above or below its cost of service (COS) v. their 2024 forecast

For details about how rates are applied, see Page 22 of the March 13 commission packet.

Commissioners in 2013 approved a policy (Resolution 8690, 10/7/2013) of small, predictable increases with the objective of adjusting rates over time until no customer class pays more than 20 percent below nor 15 percent above the cost to provide electric service by 2024. They affirmed this policy in 2015 (Resolution 8768).

The resolutions define residential, general service, large general service and irrigators, as “core customers” who, will continue to benefit with rates as much as 20 percent below the cost to provide their power.

Commission receives public comment regarding rates and more (2:19:15):

Commissioners split their votes on the rate increase. Bob Bernd, Terry Brewer and Larry Schaapman voted in favor. Tom Flint and Dale Walker voted against. Before the vote, commissioners heard comments from Grant County residents present during Tuesday’s meeting:

Marvin Price of Moses Lake told commissioners he’d questioned Grant PUD financial staffers and concluded a rate increase wasn’t needed this year, based on the amount the PUD has in reserve funds (2:19:15).

Dennis Conley called for a flat 2-percent rate increase across all rate schedules (2:40:30). Sharon Hastings and Deb Murphy, both of the “Fiber Active” citizens group, said they were disappointed that PUD officials declined for administrative-liability reasons their group’s offer to be a citizen advisory board, but urged commissioners to provide them updates on the network’s financial performance (2:32:45).

“I’m not necessarily opposed to the 2-percent increase. I oppose the structure,” Commissioner Flint said following citizen comments. “We have a pretty big debt load, six-to-seven years out. It’s certainly a lot more palatable to have a consistently smaller increases than have a period of none and then six and eight and 10 percent. My challenge is the erosion of the preference birthright of the farmers and ranchers who have built and paid for Priest Rapids and Wanapum dams in conjunction with others. That’s probably my biggest angst. That’s why I voted in opposition to the motion.”

Commissioner Walker said he agreed with Price about not needing an increase.

“I’ve always felt we’ve failed miserably as a commission in support of the rate increase. A zero rate increase I think would take $3.5-4 million off the books. It’s difficult as a commissioner of this PUD for me to stand here and say we need another 2 percent out of your hip pocket when we have as much cash as we have on hand.”

Commissioner Schaapman defended the increase.

“Cost to serve really is the best analysis to use when it comes to setting rates,” he said. “When I looked at rates set way back in 1971, most were done on political will. When you look at where we at now… We’ve set the goal posts – the 15 percent over and the 20 percent under. It’s fair and equitable, yet the heritage core customers of this utility – the ag and residential customers on Rate Schedules 1 and 3 – will still enjoy the biggest discounted rate. We have to continue with this small, incremental increase to achieve the goal we have over the next 15-20 years. That’s the reason I stand on the increase.”

Responding to the citizens who commented, Commissioner Bernd and Commission President Brewer both said a flat rate increase would only accentuate the rate disparities that already exist among customers and defended cost-of-service-based rate setting.

“I appreciate the information the cost of service analysis has given us,” Bernd said. “I agree it’s not the only thing we base our rate increases on, but I think we’ve set a worthy goal, popular or unpopular… That’s my justification for… passing this resolution.”

“I came into this commission, same as Bob, when we were looking at no rate increase one year, then the next year it would be 6 percent. That was hard to explain and didn’t make sound business practice,” said Brewer. “The path we’re on today hopefully sets us up financially with fiscal stability for all of our customers, generations into the future. We’re still spending a lot of capital… We’re borrowing money for the majority of that. But at the same time, in order to be more fiscally sound going forward, we’re trying to lower our debt-to-asset ratio. That means spending more cash on these items than we have in the past. (2:59:28)

In other action, commissioners also:

Approved a $1.44 million change order to a contract with Alstom Power Inc. for rehab of 10 the generators at Priest Rapids Dam. The change brings the new contract amount to $106.33 million for all 10 units. (1:09 on the recording)

Jeff Niehenke, Grant PUD project manager for the upgrade work, told commissioners the increase in contract cost stems from lessons learned during rehab of the dam’s first unit, which is now complete.

Crews hope to save $55 million to $77 million of total project cost by rehabbing as many of the units’ parts as possible, rather than replacing them with new parts, Niehenke said. Disassembly of the first unit revealed more wear and lead-abatement work than expected – work that will also be needed on the second unit, which is now disassembled, and on the remaining units.

Rehab of the first unit also provided insight in many areas of the project, including efficiencies that could be gained in reassembly and equipment staging during work, Niehenke said. These lessons learned extended the unit’s total down time from the expected 12 months to 16 months. They’re planning 13 months for the second unit and 12 months for each of the eight remaining units.

“So much of this depends on what you find when you take them apart,” Niehenke said, adding that the total project budget contains contingencies in anticipation of potential for additional work. Capital costs budgeted this year to upgrade units at Priest Rapids and Wanapum Dams total $85.84 million. The project is still on budget, he said, despite the delays and added work discovered.

Approved Resolution 8880 revising Grant PUD Right of Way Policy and rescinding resolution No. 8581 to include certain primary distribution and telecommunication facilities and an administrative process. (3:06:14 on the recording and pages 29-70 of commission packet)

Approved Resolution 8881 adopting the Wanapum Comprehensive Water System Plan. Grant PUD owns and operates five separate water systems in the general vicinity of Wanapum Dam. Grant PUD intends to consolidate the six different water systems into one retail service area as part of this Wanapum Comprehensive Water System Plan.  Five of the water systems are owned by Grant PUD and the sixth although historically owned by Grant PUD was sold to Zirkle Fruit Company as part of the Wanapum Village in 2016.  Additionally the plan will also allow Grant PUD to identify and schedule water system improvements that correct existing system deficiencies to ensure safe and reliable supply of water for current and future customers.  The plan also meets all applicable Washington State Department of Health and Department of Ecology requirements. (3:07:19 on the recording and pages 71 to 107 of commission packet.)

Other Commission Meeting Highlights:

Commissioners learned that Grant PUD is meeting or exceeding all but a few of the performance targets on its 2018 “Strategic Dashboard.” Consolidated return on net investments is expected to end the year at 2.7 percent – shy of the less-than-or-equal to 3.6 percent target. Grant PUD Financial Analyst Baxter Gillette said some $22 million in additional income will be needed this year to hit the target. General Manager Kevin Nordt said that would have to come with careful spending and hoped for new growth. (3:20:22)

Targets for fiber-optic buildout are subject to further analysis, Chief Financial Officer Jeff Bishop said. In the 2018 budget, commissioners allocated $7 million in reserves toward expansion of the fiber network to the 30 percent of Grant County residents who still don’t have access. Further annual funding allocations will be made based on network performance and available electric-system income. Total estimate cost to complete the buildout is $66 million to $76 million.

Quarterly business reports provided to the commission (1:18:15)

Cultural Resources and Fish and Wildlife departments both provided their quarterly program updates to the commission reviewing their top activities and accomplishments of 2017 and goals for 2018. It has been 10-years since the implementation of the relicensing of the Priest Rapids Project. The license outlines various requirements Grant PUD must adhere to within both programs.  Both update presentations are available as part of the staff presentation materials to the commission.

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Major construction enters its final stage at Crescent Bar Recreation Site

Visitors will have access to the on-island boat launch by Memorial Day weekend

 EPHRATA, Wash. – Crescent Bar Island has been bustling with construction activity for the past several months all in an effort to finish three final large projects – the on-island Riverbend Park Boat Launch and day-use marina, water system renovation, and wastewater-treatment plant.  Completion of these projects will put the final stamp on the $30 million transformation of this popular recreation area.

Earlier this month, construction crews were dredging and removing a temporary river rock work platform used to install pilings for the boat launch dock and marina.

02_01_2018 CBlaunch2

Crews then installed a steel framework imbedded in natural river rock and covered it with pre-cast concrete panels to form the boat ramp, said Brandon Little, Grant PUD Project Manager. “Work should be finished and the ramp open by Memorial Day weekend,” he said.

 

Crews will also install new pumping equipment and build a new pump house to shelter both the island’s existing well and a new well. Both will get new pumps. When finished in July, the existing well will continue to be the island’s primary source for drinking water and fire suppression. The new well will be a backup water source. Golf course irrigation will come from a third well, which formerly supplied island drinking water, but no longer meets water quality standards.
“Course fairways will be much improved this season as repairs are finished to the course irrigation system,” Little said.

Adjacent to the course’s No. 1 fairway, crews have poured concrete for a main component of the island’s new wastewater system – the treatment tank.
02_01_2018 CBsewer sys concrete
The new wastewater system is going in just north of the island’s existing open-air wastewater lagoon, which will be decommissioned, Little said. The plant will be finished in late November. Crews and equipment will continue working throughout summer and fall, but won’t impact those wanting to use the golf course. Island leaseholders will reimburse Grant PUD approximately $7 million over 10 years for their agreed-upon share of the water and wastewater system upgrade costs.

As Grant PUD prepares for summer visitors at Crescent Bar, the utility is taking proposals from qualified food truck vendors and/or watercraft rental companies to provide commercial services at the Crescent Bar Recreation Area this summer.  Complete details and information for potential vendors are available at www.grantpud.org.

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Meeting recap: Commissioners cautious of carbon-tax proposal

Commission meeting recap Feb. 13, 2018

Even in light of the shorter 60-day legislative session, it has proven to be a busy and jam-packed scene in Olympia. Wednesday (Feb. 14) is the cut-off day for a proposed bill to make it out of their respective committees. Any bill that doesn’t pass committee by 5 p.m. Wednesday is considered dead for this legislative session. (Recording time stamp, 2:25:55)

Andrew Munro, senior manager of External Affairs, provided commissioners with a 2018 state legislative update. Most of his comments centered on the Governor’s Carbon Tax Proposal. Senate Bill 6203, as requested by Governor Inslee, addresses the reduction of carbon pollution within our state.  Munro noted that this bill is one that has had lots of attention and input from utilities throughout the state in hopes of making it as favorable as possible for the industries and customers we serve.

“We haven’t said we support this and that we are ready to jump on board, but what we are doing is trying to improve (SB 6203) as much as we can,” said Munro.

Munro is encouraged by how responsive the bill’s sponsors and the governor’s staff have been to suggestions from Grant PUD and other utilities. He said he sees the revisions that have taken place within the bill as a promising step in making the bill workable. Munro cautioned that if this bill doesn’t move forward in the legislative process, other potentially less favorable bills could take its place, including a proposal to increase the state’s current Renewable Portfolio Standard.

As of Feb. 13, some of the key provisions worked into the bill include:

  • Tax rate of $10 metric ton down from $20 metric ton.
  • The ability for consumer owned utilities to claim a credit, up to 100% of the tax owed, if the revenues collect are invested in a commission approved Clean Energy Investment Plan.
  • Tax exemptions on fossil fuels and electricity sold to or used by ag-food processors, off-road diesel for farmers, energy intensive trade-exposed industries.
  • The inclusion of netting language to ensure electricity transmitted through our state that is not produce or consumed in the state are netted out and not taxed.
  • Preemptive language that negates the carbon tax if there is an expansion to the Renewable Portfolio Standard.
  • Provisions created for rural economic development and rural broadband.

 All of the commissioners where appreciative of the efforts that have gone into this year’s legislative efforts. A few voiced their overall concern with a potential carbon tax bill.

“I appreciate you trying to make the best deal for us. Our challenge is to come through it as the best we can,” said Commissioner Tom Flint. “It’s all the unintended consequences that come back to bite you. I think we need to do the best we can with the hand of cards we have been dealt.”

“I think you are heading in the right direction because whether you like it or not we are probably going to end up with a carbon tax,” said Commissioner Dale Walker.

General Manager, Kevin Nordt added that, “We aren’t looking to be trailblazers with this potential bill. The path we’ve taken isn’t to argue that you should do it as much as to try to provide caution and determine how we can craft it to be as least harmful as possible.”

There are still concerns with the potential legislation. Namely that a proposed July 1, 2019 implementation date is problematic as it doesn’t provide much time to work out complicated rule-making issues. Munro and his team will keep the commission informed as to what transpires with SB6203, as much can happen in the days we have left in the 2018 legislative session.

Other noteworthy bills: House Bill 2555 sponsored by Representative Dent and Senate Bill 6384 sponsored by Senator Warnick would provide the director of the Department of Fish and Wildlife (DF&W) with the authority to issue permits to the Wanapum to catch sturgeon and other freshwater food fish for ceremonial and subsistence purposes. Other tribes have this authority. It does not give them the authority to fish commercially. This bill is currently in the Senate and House Rules Committee. Floor action is anticipated very soon.

Other Commission Meeting Highlights:

 Public comments cover various topics- (3:03:00)

Marvin Price took time to share his issues and concerns with the commission regarding the proposed rate increase. His request was for the commission not to raise rates and asking them to look at other alternatives such as accessing the cash balance on-hand to offset the need to raise rates. He also asked the commissioners to take a closer look at the cost of service among the various rates classes.

 Sharon Hastings of Ephrata and Deb Murphy of Royal City jointly presented to the commission the efforts they are pursuing on behalf of the Fiber Active group, which has proposed creating an external advisory board. The group will provide input to the commissioners as the PUD looks to move forward with its expansion of the high-speed fiber optic network. Their hope is to have an advisory board consisting of five members representing various geographic/industry sectors throughout the county. They are communicating with Grant PUD staff to refine the details. The group hopes the advisory board will provide support to the commissioners and keep momentum of the expansion going.

Glenn Stockwell thanked the commission for their previous support of his proposal to federal lawmakers to complete the Columbia Basin Irrigation Project. He said interest is there but more work needs to be done. He encouraged commissioners to continue positive conservations with federal representatives.

Commissioners Discuss Potential Rate Increase (3:42:10)

In a follow-up to the Jan. 23 public meeting regarding potential revisions to customer rate schedules, commissioners discussed the proposed changes and the feedback they have heard from the public.

The potential increases would raise rates among most customer classes. It would equate to an overall 2-percent increase in electricity rate revenues. If approved by commissioners the proposed increases would go into effect April 1.

Commissioners agreed that keeping the district financially strong is paramount for current and future customers.

Commissioner Tom Flint said Tuesday, “I’m not saying we don’t want the district healthy or we don’t need rate increases. I’m just saying the way we have allocated it has not reaped the satisfaction level we had hoped.”

In 2015 Commissioners approved a resolution that would eventually align rates within each customer class to more closely match their respective cost of service. The target range within the resolution is to ensure no customer class pays more than 15 percent above its cost of service nor 20 percent below.

Currently Grant PUD’s core classes (residential, irrigation and general-service commercial customers) are operating at below the 20 percent cost of service level. While the large industrial customers are paying more than 15 percent their cost of service.  The approved approach would align all of these rates to fit within the targeted range through small and predictable increments over time.

Commissioners discussed the challenge of balancing the amount of cash the utility has on hand to help ensure the district can secure the best financial rating to keep borrowing rates low versus doing what they can to avoid an increase in electrical rates for customers.

It is anticipated that commissioners will vote on the proposed rate changes at their next commission meeting on March 13.

Transformer purchase

-Unanimously approved Virginia Transformer Corporation’s bid to supply power transformers to the District. The $19.5 million contract was structured to meet current customer service requests and anticipated growth over the next five years. Nine companies responded to the open bidding process. Power transformers are used in substations to convert transmission-level voltages to lower distribution-level voltage. Each substation requires at least one transformer. The first two transformers purchased under this contract are scheduled to be installed at Mountain View substation.

Injury-accident claim

-Unanimously approved liability claim charges in the not-to-exceed amount of $10,000 to compensate and cover medical costs for occupants of a vehicle struck by a Grant PUD vehicle in October 2017 on SR 243. District policy requires all liability claims in excess of $5,000 be reported to the commission prior to any payment.

Substation contract upped

-Unanimously approved authorizing the general manager to approve a change order in contract 130-4106 with HDR Contractors. The change order would increase the not-to-exceed contract price by $391,238.62 to compensate HDR for unexpected costs during its work to build or refurbish the first seven of eight Grant PUD substations. The district and HDR both anticipate this will be the last change order related to the work on these seven substations.

Contract extended to manage Crescent Bar

-Unanimously approved authorizing the general manager to approve a change order in contract 430-4318 with Central WA Management Group (CWMG). CWMG has managed the operations and maintenance at the Crescent Bar Recreation Area since November 2016. The current contract with CWMG expires on Feb. 28. The change order allows CWMG to continue providing site management of Crescent Bar Recreation Area through Dec. 31, 2018. Construction on the island is slated to be finished by November of this year. The change order increases the not-to-exceed price of the contract by $900,028.80.

 Next commission meeting: March 13

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Progressive Design Build: When speed is the need

Extraordinary load growth demanded a faster way to build. Grant County PUD found one.

By Russ Seiler and Mark Milacek, Grant County PUD

EPHRATA, WA — Pushed by a decade of extraordinary industrial load growth, Grant County Public Utility District was facing a 5-year backlog of needed substation upgrades, including two brand new substations, expansion of two existing substations and ground-up rebuilds of three more — all within a very tight 24-month time frame.

The traditional “design-bid-build” procurement process for public utilities would have added at least two years to that ambitious schedule. Big customers were impatiently awaiting more capacity. System upgrades were critical to handle anticipated growth and ensure reliability of service.

1 Cloud View transformers

A new option

Grant PUD’s $40 million in pent-up substation work couldn’t wait, but the upgrade project couldn’t sacrifice quality, consistency or worker safety.

The utility found its solution when it became the first public utility district in Washington to take advantage of a 2013 state law that gave public entities a “Progressive Design-Build” procurement option – one that has proven both flexible and efficient, producing work that is virtually on time with outstanding quality and an excellent record of safety.

PUD electrical engineer Mark Milacek learned of the option when he attended a seminar in 2015 on the benefits of alternative public works procurement methods available in Washington State.

Like its more widely known Design-Build predecessor, Progressive Design Build lets project owners hire a project designer and contractor under a single contract, with a guaranteed maximum price for multiple construction projects. The progressive version goes further by allowing project owners to choose their contractors based almost entirely on qualifications, although not without a competitive-price component.

Robyn Parkinson, the Mercer Island, Wash. attorney who helped draft Washington’s 2013 Design-Build legislation, says the process gets the three key players — project owner, designer and builder — together early in the process, to develop a scope of work, refine designs, materials, and time frames and, together, determine a maximum project cost.

The project’s ultimate success, she said, depends on the ability of these three key players to work together.

Getting it done

The Progressive Design Build alternative sounded perfect for the PUD’s substation projects. Milacek pitched the idea. Coworkers and management liked what they heard, and they got started putting together the required “owners project-management team,” which included both PUD staff and hired consultants – attorney Parkinson, Vanir Construction Management of Bellevue, Wash, and Power Engineers of Hailey, Idaho. These consultants were skilled in the Design Build process.

3 Central Ephrata

The team created the initial scope of work and submitted an application to the state Project Review Board to see if the substations project would qualify for the Progressive-Design-Build option. The consultants’ contribution was valuable at this stage. The state board needed to see that the PUD had enough experience on its team to ensure a successful project and preserve the reputation of the Design Build alternative. The project qualified.

Throughout the scoping-and-approval process, the team kept the PUD’s elected board of commissioners informed of the Progressive Design Build process and its advantages. PUD board members agreed in October 2015 to hire the design firm of Omaha-based HDR Contractors Inc. and Canby, Oregon-based builder Wilson Construction Company under a single contract with a maximum cost of $24 million. Both these companies had much prior experience doing Design-Build substation and transmission work.

HDR’s Deputy Project Manager Jake Van Houten describes the interaction with Grant as “free-flowing and continuous to be sure everyone is on the same page with regard to expected outcomes and delivery dates.”

HDR-Wilson led the project under a single team that included the same project managers, procurement managers, controllers, design manager and construction managers for all seven substation projects.

Notable subcontractors on this project were Tommer Construction Company of Ephrata, Wash., Specialty Engineering of Vancouver, Wash. and KVA Electric of Arlington, Wash.

Work began on the first of the seven substations in June 2016. As that work progressed, the PUD team, together with HDR and Wilson, got to work on the design and logistics of the next substation.

The team gained efficiencies with each stage of construction as they learned lessons from the last.

“It was a real go for a few months. A real scramble,” said Patrick Smith, site superintendent for Wilson Construction “Of all the Design-Build projects, this is the largest number of sites I’ve worked on that are contained within one project. It brought challenges of complexity and speed.”

In February 2017, an arc-flash fire caused extensive damage to Grant PUD’s Central Substation in the city of Ephrata, population 8,032. PUD officials added the rebuild of the damaged substation to the ongoing Progressive-Design-Build project. This brought the total number of project substations to eight.

Work progressed on schedule and with good results. The unseasonably cold winter of 2016-2017 caused some delays and required schedule shuffling, but the overall project – including the additional substation – was finished by late October 2017, only three months longer than planned and with an excellent safety record.

HDR Construction Manager Van Houten said his crew logged more than 60,000 man hours on the project with zero lost-time incidents. Worksites passed multiple surprise inspections from state labor officials. “Safety was huge,” Van Houten said.

Cloud View Sub Under Construction

Lessons learned

Grant PUD’s internal team is conducted a series of lessons-learned exercises. Here are a few of their findings:

– With design, procurement and construction happening in parallel, Design Build requires the three key participants — project owner, project designer and project builder — to work closely and collaborate. The attitude of the key players is critical. The success of the project depends on establishing a culture of trust and collaboration.

– With multiple phases of the project underway at any given time, the project owner should expect to assign more than one staffer to manage the project. Work happens fast. The owner has to be very involved. It can be too much for a single project manager or engineer to handle. Operations folks should also be included throughout the process. They bring a critical perspective. The contractor wants to give the owner what we want, project engineers say. But every utility has its own stamp. The utility has to work with the contractor to reach that goal.

– Get everyone to the table as early as possible. Spending effort and resources on a well-coordinated, organized start is a huge benefit. When the unexpected comes up in the heat of battle, it can stress relations on the team. Catch problems and bring them up early, so it can bring the team closer together. Sometimes, as the saying goes, “you have to slow down to go fast.”

– Bundling the work really had a positive impact on quality. Builders fought through the learning curve early in the build to meet PUD expectations. By the time crews had finished the first three substations, both quality and speed improved. For example, control house wiring took 12 weeks on the first substations. Crews had cut that time in half by the third.

– Grant PUD wants every one of the eight substations to look, feel and even “smell” just like every other substation in the PUD system. When crews go to troubleshoot, it’s a big help to have everything be the same, as much as possible.

– Grant PUD also partnered with two professors from Washington State University to conduct independent research and interviews to compile a formal, lessons-learned report. The effort supports the utility’s drive to develop a culture of continuous learning and innovation.

Christine Pratt of Grant PUD Public Affairs contributed to this story.

Bios:

Russ Seiler (rseiler@gcpud.org) is a project manager for Grant County Public Utility District (PUD), located in Washington State.  He has a BSME degree from LeTourneau University and is a registered professional engineer in the state of Washington. He began his engineering career in building design and entered the utility industry seven years ago as a staff engineer in the Bonneville Power Administration’s structure design group.

Mark Milacek (mmilacek@gcpud.org) joined Grant County Public Utility District (PUD) in 2012 as an electrical engineer in the utility’s Transmission and Distribution Group, where he designs and oversees the construction and testing of substations. He was a power production specialist in the U.S. Air Force and, later, a commissioned officer in the Washington Air National Guard. He earned bachelor’s degrees in Physics and Electrical Engineering from Seattle University in 1992. Other engineering work includes 14 years at Snohomish County PUD and three years Commonwealth Associates, a private firm.

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Recap of Grant PUD commission meeting, 01/23/2018

Commissioners study 2-percent increase in annual rate revenue

(1:30:00) and (3:37:15) Grant PUD commissioners got a look Tuesday at a proposed slate of rate increases across most Grant PUD customer types that would generate an estimated 2 percent more in revenue from retail electricity rates starting April 1.

The proposed increase would be the fourth in a series of consecutive annual rate increases under a rate-design policy approved by commissioners in 2013 to help keep Grant PUD on a path of financial stability by more closely aligning the rate paid by each customer class to the actual cost to provide it with electricity.

The latest increase will add an estimated average of:

  • $1.49 to the monthly residential bill
  • $6.43 to the monthly general service (large commercial) bill
  • $24.65 to the monthly bill for irrigators
  • $73.85 to the monthly bill for “large general” (commercial)
  • Billing increases for large industrial customers are based on too many varying factors to be characterized by a single average figure.

The latest increase is expected to generate $3.8 million in new retail rate revenue over 12 months. The proposed rate-revenue increase has already been included in the 2018 budget approved by commissioners Dec. 12.

Commissioners agreed in 2013 to align rates based on a Grant PUD cost-of-service analysis with targets to ensure no customer class pays more than 15 percent above its cost of service nor 20 percent below.

Under this model, rates paid by large industrial customers, who pay more than their costs of service, help keep rates lower for the “core” residential, irrigation and general-service (commercial) customers.

Here’s a list of proposed increases per rate class and rate targets: Table

*Achieved through a combination of adjustment to the fixed monthly “basic” charge, the rate per kilowatt hour, demand charge and horsepower capacity charge.

** Resolution 8768 (commissioner approved in May 12, 2015): Goal is to adjust rates in small increments over time until no customer class pays more than 20 percent below its cost of service, nor more than 15 percent above its cost of service. Residential and irrigation classes receive most cost preference, followed by general service (small and large commercial). The target rates above cost will be only be as high as necessary. The below-cost limit for general and large-general (commercial) service will vary.

 

Many cryptocurrency (bitcoin) mining operations that have requested Grant PUD power. An analysis of the cost to serve those energy-intense customers is currently underway to determine a fair rate that also protects all Grant PUD customers.

Commissioner Dale Walker said he was concerned how a “new large load” rate class could end up affecting the rates of other customers. General Manager Kevin Nordt said the analysis that will happen during the upcoming year will examine the structure of that rate and its effects.

“There are ways to address that on our radar screen for sure,” Nordt said.

Commissioner Bob Bernd said Tuesday after a morning rate briefing that he hoped to be able to say “no increase” in rates in 2024.

Some of the approximately 20 members of the public who attended the afternoon rate meeting expressed concerns about the proposed increase.

“You’re going to sell all this electricity to the richest people at the expense of the farmers,” said Judy Wilson of Moses Lake, concerned about the large number of energy inquires from cryptocurrency miners (bitcoin) and potential growth of financial firms and other lucrative businesses that could adopt a variation of the “blockchain” technology currently used in bitcoin mining. (4:20:00)

Spud Brown of Royal City suggested a single rate for all classes of customer and proposed the PUD pay down its approximately $1.3 billion in debt to reduce the approximately $94 million in annual debt service, rather than rely on cost-of-service estimates to set rates.

“You’re looking at this in the wrong direction,” Brown said. “You’ve got to drop some of that debt… Sooner or later, you guys are going to have to pay the fiddler.” (4:28:00)

General Manager Kevin Nordt explained that total debt load is “pretty healthy,” considering that upgrades to modernize Priest Rapids and Wanapum dams cost in excess of $1 billion — more than the $750 million it cost to build both dams — and funding those costs with debt helps fairly spread the debt burden over the multiple generations of customers who will benefit from the upgraded equipment.

An update to Grant PUD’s cost-of-service analysis is expected this year.

Commissioners are scheduled to hear a second round of public comment at their Feb. 13 commission meeting and vote on the proposed increase at their March 13 meeting. Both meetings are at Grant PUD’s Ephrata headquarters. New rates would take effect April 1.

For more detailed information about the proposed 2018 rate increase view PUD Analyst Jeremy Nolan’s presentation here. Scroll down to page 31.

 

Other commission highlights Tuesday

Fiber network build-out could begin ‘fairly quickly’

(2:18:55) Continued build-out of Grant PUD’s High Speed Network could begin “fairly quickly” General Manager Kevin Nordt told commissioners in what he said would be the first of quarterly updates on commissioners’ Dec. 12 decision, amid much customer support, to transfer $7 million from a Grant PUD savings fund to the 2018 budget for the fiber system.

The build-out will not be on a fixed schedule, but based on Grant PUD’s financial capabilities from year to year, Nordt said.

To make it happen, Grant PUD will keep the public aware of the process, get personnel in the right positions, pursue state and federal grant funding, if any, to expand rural broadband; continue to actively promote the network to increase the current “take rate” of 49.55 percent to 75 percent or 80 percent, in line with the country’s best-performing networks, and create a build-out schedule.

The build-out will likely not require a contract-bidding process, he said.

“Network revenue growth is reasonably healthy,” Nordt said. “We’ll get a handle on the build-out schedule with stakeholder engagement… so folks can see there’s a method to our progress. We’ll be able to start building pretty quickly, it’s looking like.”

 

A fix is in the works for pole fires

(3:30:00) Brent Bischoff, senior manager of Power Delivery Engineering, and Jesus Lopez, manager of Dispatch, told commissioners of plans to replace old-style horizontal insulators that make wood poles susceptible to catching fire.

Last fall, crews responded to a string of pole fires that happened after the first light rains following the dry days of summer. All the affected poles contained insulators installed in a horizontal, rather than the more common vertical position, Lopez explained after the meeting.

The horizontal insulators have more room for dust to accumulate on their surfaces. After a light rain the dust or dirt becomes moist and can become a pathway for electricity to travel from the power line to the wood pole, which is also very dry.

Chris Heimbigner, Grant PUD Line Office supervisor, said after the meeting that the Grant PUD system has thousands of these horizontal insulators in use across the county. But that doesn’t mean they’re all going to catch fire. The setting — near a big, dusty field, for example — would make a pole more vulnerable that one in a rocky or more urban setting.

“We’re going to go after this pretty aggressively starting this year” Heimbigner said.

Crews will replace the horizontal insulators with vertical ones.

 

Total on-the-job accidents declining

Grant PUD Safety Coordinator Tyler O’Brion shared with commissioners that total on-the-job accidents were at a four-year low in 2017 with a total of 70. Incidents that resulted in days away from work are also at a four-year low, at 4 total.

Safety results show that this year’s total 26 “recordable accidents” — ones that require more than first aide — continue to hover around the same level, meaning Grant PUD still has work to do to improve safety district-wide.

 

Commissioners also:

– Unanimously approved four professional contracts that will provide Grant PUD archaeological staff with expert help for carrying out the District’s Historic Properties Management Plan, which includes the ongoing effort to track and record the historically sensitive sites around the reservoirs of Priest Rapids and Wanapum Dams. The work is mandated by Grant PUD’s federal license to operate the dams and by Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act. Each contract is for $800,000 and for a term of 730 days. Twelve bidders responded. The contracts were awarded to these top-scoring bidders: Eastern Washington University, Rain Shadow Research of Pullman, Applied Archaeological Research of Portland, Ore. and Environmental Science Associates of Seattle. (Page 9+ of Commission packet).

– Unanimously authorized the general manager to execute Amendment No. 2 of an existing contract with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Animal and Plant Health Inspection Services for avian predator control at Priest Rapids and Wanapum dams. The authorization increases the contract by $256,552, for a new, not-to-exceed total of $799,345. Ongoing control is necessary to reduce the number of predator birds who eat young salmon on their way past Grant PUD dams. (Page 78 if commission packet)

– Unanimously authorized the general manager to approve a change order, adding $391,238 to an existing contract with HDR Constructors. The change brings the total contract to $28.9 million and extends it by 91 days to Jan. 31, 2018. The change results from a negation between Grant PUD and HDR, the lead contractor on a project to build or rebuild seven substations around the county. The negotiation corrected differing or inaccurate cost estimates. This change is not related to repairs to the fire-damaged Central Ephrata Substation. (Page 105 of commission packet)

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Customers with high bill concerns are asked to contact Grant PUD

Utility’s customer service has plan to help customers with estimated billing

EPHRATA, Wash. – Grant PUD is asking customers concerned with high bills this winter to contact its customer service department by emailing customerservice@grantpud.org or calling (509) 766-2505.

Many of the concerns from customers stem from the combination of the traditional winter energy-use spike that accompanies colder weather and that it was necessary to estimate some bills the past few months. On average, a single meter reader records information from about 300 meters a day. If the meter reader is unavailable because of winter conditions or other reasons, then the reads for that day have to be estimated. Bill estimations are based on prior usage and can sometimes be higher or lower than actual usage. In those cases, bills are adjusted when a reader is able to record the actual power consumption, usually the following month. Estimated bills will have the word, “Yes” on them in the upper right corner of the bill. Also, it’s important to note the days in the billing cycle listed on their bill. Billing cycle days can vary as much as six days.

If a customer is concerned that the estimated bill is out of line with actual usage, then they are encouraged to contact customer service to discuss their options. “We understand that getting an unexpected high bill can be upsetting,” said Terry McKenzie, senior manager of customer solutions. “We want customers to contact us so we can find the best resolution for them.”

Options for customers include:

  • Sending customer service an electronic photo of their meter when they receive an estimated bill so the bill can be reviewed to reflect actual usage.
  • Signing up for BudgetPay level billing service.
  • There are also resources in the county to help customers keep their power on if they cannot pay their bill.

McKenzie encourages customers to e-mail their concerns if possible, due to increased call volume. Emails will be answered as quickly as possible.

It is also important to note that all meters in the county are still being manually read — even the new Advanced Metering Program (AMP) meters. Eventually the new AMP meters will be read remotely when the utility has completed and tested the interface to operate the remote reads. One of the benefits of AMP meters is to eliminate estimations and increases accuracy and efficiencies. To learn more about the Advanced Metering Program, visit http://grantpud.org/customer-service/advanced-metering-program.

#                                                          #

Established by local residents over 75 years ago, Grant PUD generates and delivers energy to millions of customers throughout the Pacific Northwest. What began as a grassroots movement of public power has evolved into one of the premiere providers of renewable energy at some of the most affordable rates in the nation. For more information visit www.grantpud.org or follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

MEDIA CONTACT(S):

Public Affairs (509) 754-5035 / publicaffairs@gcpud.org

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Wanapum Heritage Center Presents Patriot Nations: Native Americans in Our Nation’s Armed Forces

Traveling Exhibition from the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian features the contributions of Native Veterans

 MATTAWA, Wash. – Native Americans have served in every major U.S. military encounter from the Revolutionary War to today’s conflicts in the Middle East and in higher numbers per capita than any other ethnic group.

Patriot Nations: Native Americans in Our Nation’s Armed Forces reveals the remarkable history of Native American veterans through art, photography and essay. The 16-panel exhibition documents 250 years of Native peoples’ contributions to the U.S. military. The exhibition runs now through May 8 in the Wanapum Heritage Center at 29086 Washington 243, Mattawa WA 99249. The center is normally open Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and Saturdays and Sundays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is always free.

Diné [Navajo] code talkers Corporal Henry Bahe, Jr. and Private First Class George H. Kirk. Bougainville, South Pacific, December 1943. National Archives and Records Administration 127-MN-69889-B

Diné [Navajo] code talkers Corporal Henry Bahe, Jr. and Private First Class George H. Kirk. Bougainville, South Pacific, December 1943.
National Archives and Records Administration 127-MN-69889-B

 “It’s so meaningful to me because it shares a story that is an important part of our history,” Lela Buck, Heritage Center director and member of the Wanapum Band says of the exhibition. “It highlights the vital role Native Americans played in military service throughout our nation’s history. We are grateful to host Patriot Nations and invite everyone to come and learn this history.”

 Patriot Nations has mostly visited larger cities and communities. Having the exhibition come to the Wanapum Heritage Center near Mattawa is a great honor, Buck added. “We’re very grateful to share this exhibition with our community,” she said. The exhibition will include the personal stories of the Wanapum Band’s own military veterans in photographs, Buck said.

 Patriot Nations: Native Americans in Our Nation’s Armed Forces was produced by the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian. The exhibition was made possible by the generous support of the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians.

 The Patriot Nations exhibition also promotes the National Native American Veterans Memorial, to be built on the National Museum of the American Indian grounds on the National Mall in Washington, DC. Design finalists for the memorial will be announced later this month. The National Museum of the American Indian is collaborating with the National Congress of American Indian, Native American veterans, tribal leaders, historians and cultural experts to complete the memorial by Veteran’s Day 2020. For more information about the memorial, visit AmericanIndian.si.edu/NNAVM.

 About the National Museum of the American Indian:
The National Museum of the American Indian is committed to advancing knowledge and understanding of the Native cultures of the Western Hemisphere—past, present and future—through partnership with Native people and others. Follow the museum via social media on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. To learn more about the museum’s mission, visit AmericanIndian.si.edu.

About the Wanapum Heritage Center:
Opened in 2015, the Wanapum Heritage Center tells the story of the Wanapum Band, native to the Priest Rapids area of the Columbia River. The Wanapum Heritage Center is located next to Priest Rapids Dam off Highway 243 about five miles south of Mattawa, projects implemented at this center perpetuate the importance of the culture, traditions and beliefs of the Wanapum. To learn more, visit www.wanapum.org.

MEDIA CONTACT(S):
Wanapum Heritage Center (509) 766-3461 / lbuck@gcpud.org

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Public Meeting on Future Grant PUD Rates is Jan. 23

Meeting 2 p.m. at Ephrata Headquarters building

EPHRATA, Wash. – Grant PUD will hold a public meeting as part of its annual review of electrical rates on Tuesday, Jan. 23 at 2 p.m. in the Commission Room at the PUD’s Ephrata Headquarters Building, 30 C Street SW, Ephrata WA 98823.

During the meeting, staff will propose rate increases that reflect the utility’s cost to serve each of the PUD’s customer groups — including residential, irrigation, commercial and industrial. The rates are recommended to help Grant PUD achieve its 2018 budget, which calls for a 2 percent overall revenue increase for power sold to Grant County customers and takes into account a $33 million decrease in net spending from 2017. The 2 percent revenue increase continues a long-term strategy that began in 2014 of implementing small, predictable annual price increases to cover rising operations and regulatory compliance expenses. Any price changes made by the commissioners are scheduled to begin on April 1.

There will be an opportunity to comment on proposed increases during the meeting on Jan. 23 and also during the public-comment portion of the Feb. 13 meeting, which begins at 1 p.m. Comments can also be made via email to commissioners@gcpud.org or by mailing Grant PUD Commissioners at PO Box 878, Ephrata, WA 98823. Information about the proposed changes will be posted on Grant PUD’s website at grantpud.org.

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Recap of the Jan. 9 commission meeting

Grant PUD to hire manager for fiber network

Grant PUD Commissioners learned at their first board meeting of the year Tuesday of plans in the works to hire a manager to oversee operation, enhancement and expansion of Grant PUD’s soon-High Speed Network.

General Manger Kevin Nordt told the board he plans to put someone into the position of network business manager soon. (At 03:11 on the commission meeting audio recording)

“We’re going to continue to operate the current fiber network and enhance its utilization. We’re also looking to expand,” Nordt said. “As part of trying to make that as effective as possible… I’m going to look to put someone who’s got clear accountability and responsibility who will report to me going forward. We’ll figure out who that is and get that in place shortly.”

The manager would pursue opportunities for grants to expand the network and funding from other potential partners, as well as conduct outreach to determine areas for fiber expansion and increase utilization in existing fiber areas, he said.

Network expansion will happen under a detailed plan that becomes part of a 10-year network business plan with goals, milestones, and commission support, Nordt said.

“I want to get a really solid plan of attack,” Nordt said. “That will essentially become a business plan that myself and the manager will be held accountable to.”

Assistant General Manager Tony Webb will support the network manager and help implement the network business plan.

“He’s a great resource to have and so we’ll be using his capabilities,” Nordt said of Webb.

The FCC’s recent ruling on net neutrality shouldn’t have any impact on how Grant PUD will operate its wholesale network since the changes primarily effect retail service providers, he said.

Power Production keeps within 2017 budget

Power Production stayed within its 2017 Capital, O&M and Labor budgets, according to a report from Rich Wallen, managing director of Power Production, given to commissioners. (01:14 on the commission meeting recording)

Power Production spent 78.6 percent of its capital budget of $102.4 million with $80.4 million in actuals. It spent 97.7 percent of its O&M budget of $22.5 million and 99.1 percent of its 25.7 million labor budget. The figures also include estimated unpaid invoices.

The 2018 Power Production capital budget is $66.8 million. The 2018 O&M budget of $21 million is down 4.5 percent from last year, and the labor budget of $25.1 million is a decrease of 2.5 percent from 2017.

Also, Priest Rapids Dam had an availability rate of 82.58 percent and Wanapum Dam had an availability rate of 85.39 percent.

In 2018, rehab work is planned for unit W07 at Wanapum Dam and P02 at Priest Rapids, Wallen added.

Crescent Bar proves profitable in 2017

Crescent Bar’s revenues offset expenses in 2017, according to a Lands and Recreation Program Report given by Lands and Recreation Manager Shannon Lowry.

Total revenues for 2017 were $1.597 million and expenses were $1.123 million. (01:46 on the commission meeting recording)

Crescent Bar revenues include:

  • Campground = $70,064 (For partial year, that didn’t include Memorial Weekend.)
  • Golf Course = $84,610
  • Fuel Sales = $92,916
  • Lease revenue and vendors’ fees = $1.349 million

Total expenses include:

  • Campground = $72,306
  • Golf Course = $336,943
  • Fuel Sales = $113,171 (Corrected number from presentation)
  • Other = $601,224

The Lands and Recreation Program came in under budget in capital, O&M and labor. It spent 94 percent of the $18.4 million capital budget, 89 percent of the $1.347 million O&M budget, and 97 percent of the $1.217 million labor budget.

Next commission meeting: Jan 23, 2018. Discussion of proposed electric rate increases.

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Grant PUD’s $77 million refinance hits budget goal, improves customer fairness

EPHRATA, Wash. – Grant PUD has refinanced $77 million in outstanding debt to reduce finance costs, help hold a planned 2018 rate-revenue increase to 2 percent, and more equitably align debt burden to the life of the assets it finances – a big fairness boost to customers.

“This transaction increases customer value by spreading the debt burden over the multiple generations who will benefit from the equipment upgrades it financed,” Bonnie Overfield, senior manager of Finance, said.

The transaction refinances bonds of varying maturity dates through 2023 into a single new issue of 30-year bonds. The sale became final Dec. 20.

The deal does not add to Grant PUD’s $1.3 billion in debt, Overfield said. It locks in an interest rate that will reduce long-term debt liability by approximately $12 million, and saves $1 million-to-$1.5 million in consulting, underwriting and staff time by refinancing the older bond issues as single, “advanced-refunding” transaction.

The debt restructuring comes just ahead of proposed federal tax reforms that, if approved as currently proposed, would prohibit advanced refunding, potentially increasing refinancing costs by millions.

Fast action by Grant PUD’s financial team and executive managers identified the costly risk of waiting to restructure the debt, and completed this complex deal weeks before a vote on the proposed tax reforms.

“A significant amount of credit is due also to PUD commissioners for having the insight and faith in staff to authorize and execute this financing,” Overfield said. “It’s a win-win for both the PUD and our customers.”

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Grant PUD signs one-year ‘wheeling-charge’ agreement for Basin irrigators

Grant PUD entered into a new one-year agreement Dec. 8 with the Federal Bureau of Reclamation to transport over Grant PUD power lines electricity generated at federal dams for the local irrigation districts who use federally supplied water and power.

The agreement establishes “wheeling charges” – energy-transport/delivery rates – that cover Grant PUD’s cost to provide and maintain the local power lines and other infrastructure necessary to deliver the federal electricity used to pump Columbia Basin Project irrigation water.

The agreement will be in effect January through December 2018. It replaces a six-month agreement requested by the Columbia Basin Irrigation Districts to study the PUD’s cost-of-service calculations. That agreement expires Dec. 31.

The new agreement affirms wheeling rates that will be billed monthly while the Bureau and irrigators continue payment-related discussions and potential for a long-term wheeling agreement with the PUD.

Grant PUD purchased transmission lines from federal Bonneville Power Administration decades ago, but agreed not to charge wheeling fees for 40 years. That contract expired in June. Going forward, Grant PUD will charge to cover its delivery costs, calculated at approximately $800,000 annually.

Roger Sonnichsen, assistant manager of the Quincy Columbia Basin Irrigation District thanked PUD commissioners for the new one-year agreement during the board’s final meeting of the year, Dec. 12.

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Recap of the Dec. 12 commission meeting

Satisfaction of residential customers at a five-year high

Commissioners learned Tuesday — their final commission meeting of 2017 — that 90 percent of residential customers who responded to an October phone survey reported they were satisfied or very satisfied with the service they receive from Grant PUD. The result tops the 88 percent satisfaction recorded in 2012, when we first formally started polling customers.

Seattle-based pollster Strategies 360 conducted the Oct. 22-30 phone survey of 401 Grant PUD residential customers. Respondents were a proportional mix of gender, age group, years as a PUD customers, and preferred language choice (English or Spanish). Most respondents – paid monthly bills in excess of $100; 28 percent said their monthly bills ranged from $75 to $99; and 25 percent reported bills of $74 or less.

The survey has a 4.9 percent margin of error at a 95% confidence level. Strategy 360 conducted focus groups of irrigators, industrial and commercial/small business customers in September, but didn’t include these customers in the October phone survey because their numbers are too small to yield a statistically significant survey result.

Respondents gave highest ratings to Grant PUD for minimizing outages (89%), customer service (83%), providing real-time outage updates (74%) and communicating with customers (71%) – all these category results bested responses from a 2015 survey. Quality and reliability top customers’ list of favorite Grant PUD qualities.

A majority of respondents also agree that Grant PUD keeps prices as low as possible (66%), supports community events (60%) and provides access to the internet (54%).

Despite “rates” making some customers’ “improvement needed” list, 84 percent of respondents described their rates as “affordable,” including 38 percent who said “very affordable.”

See the survey presentation to the commissioners here.

In other business, commissioners:

 

Commissioners approve $274.2 million budget for 2018

Grant PUD commissioners unanimously approved a $274.3 million budget for 2018 that represents a $33 million reduction in expenditures from 2017 and furthers goals to keep the utility financial strong, with energy rates as affordable as possible.

The 2018 budget includes $139.6 million in capital spending for work that includes upgrades to aging equipment at the dams, needed electric system improvements and $7 million for expansion of the High-Speed Network.

The approved budget meets commission goals of managing overall costs within a small, predictable 2 percent annual increase in electric rates. The latest increase is slated for implementation this spring. Actual rate increases will differ by customer class and be determined following commission discussion in the coming months.

The 2018 budget helps steer Grant PUD toward the goals of its five-year financial forecast through 2022. The budget anticipates a positive bottom line of $57 million that will be reinvested in electric generation, delivery and environmental assets.

See a news release on the budget here.

 

Recognized an employee work group tasked with improving hand protection

Commissioners and staff recognized an employee pilot committee tasked with finding ways to reduce a rash of hand injuries from sharp box cutters and other cutting tools. The group investigated and identified a new type of slice-resistant glove the district will purchase and distribute to employees in the field who need them.

Committee members were Jeff Grizzel, Dale Sunwold, Jacqueline Roduner, Eric Huber, Ted Harris, Jerad Youngers, Jose Luera, Randall Hovland, Mark Riggs, Eric Grady, Rob Shingledecker, Perry Pierce, Jackie Bicondova, Ryan Roedner, RJ Fronsman, Leroy Boyd and Bill Evans. Presenting the group were Rich Wallen, managing director of Power Production, and Mike Tongue, manager of Power Delivery Construction Maintenance.

“There are no better folks to tell us what we need than the folks on the point of impact doing it,” Wallen told commissioners.

“It’s the goal of all commissioners to see you get home safe to your families,” Commission President Larry Schaapman said, thanking the assembled committee members for their work.

“Hats off to them,” General Manager Kevin Nordt said. “They chose to come forward and form the committee. They’re a tremendous example of the type of folk we have here.”

 

Recognized Wanapum Heritage Center for recent design awards

Rex Buck Jr., leader of the Wanapum; Angela Buck, Wanapum Heritage center director; Angela Neller, center curator; Greg Minden, Grant PUD Project Manager; and Tim Fleisher, Grant PUD Facilities Manager for their contributions to the creation, construction and success of the Heritage Center, which won two awards this year for architectural design. The awards are the latest in a series of recognitions in recent years. The center opened its doors October 2015.

 

Heard that most financial metrics were on target in 2017

Grant PUD will end 2017 hitting most of its key financial metrics for the year, maintaining its high, AA bond rating and a system-reliability index (the amount of time power is available to customers) of 99.996 percent. Financial Analyst Baxter Gillette pointed out a few areas of needed improvement. These include:

– A higher return on net assets. The 2.9 percent actual return was one-half percent below target. Gillette said this figure is a tough one to improve, but it should grow to surpass the long-term target of 4 percent through depreciation and cost controls.

– Availability of units at the dams. They were available to generate power 84.7 percent of the time, a bit shy of the 86 percent target. Kevin Marshall, chief operating officer, pointed to ongoing turbine and generator upgrades at both Priest Rapids and Wanapum dams that require units be taken out of service for repairs. This upgrade at Wanapum Dam is now winding down. Marshall said the timeline for the some of the rehab was slowed slightly to improve employee safety.  General Manager Kevin Nordt said the 86-percent target will remain viable.

– System weakness discovered during a system reliability audit. A weakness in a computer system firewall may result in a fine. The problem has already been fixed.

 

Heard from Brett Lenz, manager of Cultural Resources

Work to repair or prevent damage from erosion at the sites of archeological significance around the Wanapum and Priest Rapids reservoirs will cost an estimated $9 million over the next decade. Site monitoring, mitigation of hazards and other expenses will cost an estimated $25 million to $40 million through 2052 (the life of Grant PUD’s federal license).

Some 1,300 cultural sites – places with historic evidence of human gathering or artifacts – have been evaluated around the reservoirs. Of those, 457 were determined eligible for the National Register of Historic Places, and another 219 treated as eligible sites.

Grant PUD entered into an agreement with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in 2006 to work toward protection of these areas. Chief Operating Officer Kevin Marshall estimates that 1.8 percent of the 2018 average retail energy rate of 4.06 cents per kilowatt hour is attributable to cultural resources obligations. The identified work could drive this up to 3.5 percent of the average retail rate by 2027. View Lenz’s board presentation here.

 

Unanimously passed wholesale rate increases for Internet Service Providers

The local companies (Internet Service Providers — ISPs) that sell internet and other services over Grant PUD’s High-Speed Network will pay an extra $3 per month premium access fee and be subject to a “re-transmission” fee for those ISPs who sell services to two or more customers over a single PUD fiber connection using wireless or other means.

These changes to the fiber-focuses Rate Schedule 100 and the Telecommunications Customer Service Police will take effect March, 1, 2018.

The changes are necessary to provide a financially sustainable fiber network within the guidelines of Grant PUD’s Vision 2021, which sets financial goals and objectives through 2021.

 

Unanimously approved 10-year conservation plan and 2018-2019 targets

Grant PUD has set a target to conserve more than 22 average megawatts of electricity by 2027, including nearly 4 average megawatts by late 2018, to comply with requirements of the state’s voter-approved Energy Independence Act (I-937).

The Act requires Grant PUD and other utilities with more than 25,000 customers to identify 10-year conservation potential and devise conservation targets every two years. Grant PUD’s 2017-2018 target is higher than the 2015-2016 biennium due to expected increased conservation potential from key technologies like LED lighting and heat-pump water heaters.

Commissioners discussed these targets during a public hearing Nov. 28.

 

Unanimously elected 2018 officers for the Grant PUD Commission

Effective Jan. 1, Commissioner Terry Brewer will become president of Grant PUD’s five-person board. Commissioner Bob Bernd will become board vice president, and Commissioner Dale Walker will become board secretary. The slate of officers will remain in effect until the next election of officers. Commissioners Brewer and Bernd also received their 10-year pins, commemorating years of service.

 

Unanimously appointed Grant PUD’s representative and alternates to the Central Washington Power Agency

Commissioner Larry Schaapman was appointed representative to the board of directors. Commissioners Bob Bernd, Terry Brewer, Dale Walker and Tom Flint were appointed alternates. The Central Washington Power Agency was created in 1962 to foster cooperation between Grant PUD and Kittitas County PUD should the two utilities ever seek joint energy-related projects. To date, few joint projects have been proposed. All appointments begin Jan. 1 will serve until successors are named.

 

Unanimously appointed Grant PUD’s representative and alternates to the board of Energy Northwest

Commissioner Terry Brewer will represent Grant PUD on the board of directors of Energy Northwest. Commissioners Dale Walker, Larry Schaapman, Bob Bernd and Tom Flint will be alternate representatives. Appointments begin Jan. 1 and serve until successors are named.

Unanimously appointed representative an alternates to the Washington PUD Association board

Commissioner Bob Bernd will represent Grant PUD on the WPUDA board. Commissioners Larry Schaapman, Tom Flint, Terry Brewer and Dale Walker will be alternates. Appointments being Jan. 1.

Unanimously authorized general manager to execute $1.44 million contract for billing and ebilling service

The five-year contract with Fidelity Information Services LLC is for electronic bill and payment presentment and bill printing and mailing services at a not-to-exceed price of $1.44 million.

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Grant PUD commissioners set budget for 2018

Budget advances financial targets, ensures stability for customers

EPHRATA, Wash. –Grant PUD commissioners unanimously adopted a $274.3 million budget for 2018 that reflects a $33 million decrease in net expenditures from 2017.

The budget anticipates a positive bottom line of $57.3 million which will be reinvested in electric generation, delivery and environmental assets. The budget also furthers goals to keep the utility financially strong and energy prices as affordable as possible for customers.

“Our 2018 budget delivers on our customer’s expectation that we provide reliable and affordable energy,” said PUD General Manager Kevin Nordt. “Our healthy local economy depends on affordable power. Grant PUD’s low rates are a major draw for businesses moving to our area, leading the way to more job opportunities and services for residents across our county. That’s just one of the reasons we’re committed to keeping prices low—because we know the vitality of our region depends on it,” said Nordt.

The approved budget contains $139.6 million for capital spending on projects that include continued rehabilitation of the aging generators and turbines at Priest Rapids and Wanapum dams, needed electric system improvements pushed by the county’s growing demand for electricity, the utility’s new advanced meter program, and new recreation amenities.

Other key cost drivers in the approved budget include $110.8 million for operations and maintenance– an increase of less than 1 percent over 2017 – as well as $92.3 million for payments on the PUD’s $1.35 billion in total debt, and tax payments of $17.1 million.

On the heels of an extensive public outreach campaign, commissioners also allocated $7 million dollars toward the continued expansion of Grant PUD’s High Speed Network. In separate action, commissioners also approved a $3 per month increase to the basic and premium wholesale fiber access fee. These fees will be passed on to local internet service providers.

The approved budget meets commission goals of managing overall costs within a small, predictable 2 percent annual increase in electric rates which are slated for implementation this spring. Commissioners will review this rate recommendation and give the public opportunities for input before taking action.

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‘Experience Speed’ video earns national award

By Christine Pratt
Grant PUD Public Affairs

Born to be wi-ii-ii-ii-ld… about Grant PUD’s High-Speed Network. Thanks to this tough bunch of bikers — all PUD employees, including Leroy Boyd, Mason Utter, Randy Weisheit, Ken Holsten, David Cranson and Raymond Garcia — who volunteered some of their spare time to star in an national-award-winning video about how a snail-like internet experience becomes screaming fast over Grant PUD fiber.

During the recent American Public Power Association’s (APPA) Customer Connections Conference, Grant PUD’s promotional video was recognized as one of the best in the nation. The conference took place earlier this month. Public power utilities from around the country submitted their marketing projects for a chance to win one of these coveted awards.

This year Grant PUD’s video promoting its high speed fiber network took home the best video award in its class. The video was up against numerous other entries from similar sized utilities around the country. It also received the “People’s Choice Award” during the conference. That distinction goes to the favorite video as voted on by conference attendees.

The video can be viewed here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Plklf9WVR2c

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Approval appears close for fiber expansion, new wholesale fiber rates

Commissioners Tuesday appeared ready for a Dec. 12 vote on both their own directive to add $7 million to the 2018 budget to expand the fiber network and a staff proposal that would increase the wholesale fees the internet service providers (ISPs) pay to sell internet and other services over Grant PUD’s High-Speed Network.

Fees these companies pay for wholesale fiber basic and premium access would increase by $3 per month. The staff proposal would also create a new “re-transmission” (aka retransmit) policy and fee to ensure the PUD is reimbursed by those ISPs or individuals who provide multiple customers with wireless internet service from a single fiber connection.

The fees, all part of Rate Schedule 100, would take effect March 31, 2018 to give local ISPs time to determine how any increases will be implemented and passed on to their customers.

The retransmission policy and fee is something commissioners requested from staff months ago and is fairly typical for wholesale providers, according to Grant PUD Fiber Project Specialist Russ Brethower. The ISPs have been part of the process throughout the year to modify the current rate schedule and also address the retransmission issue.

Retransmission generally describes any situation in which a customer or carrier takes service from Grant PUD and then subsequently transmits it on to other customers. Retransmission  typically occurs when a service provider takes fiber service from Grant PUD and then retransmits it wirelessly to multiple wireless customers while paying only a standard single customer subscription fee. This results in a lost revenue opportunity for Grant PUD to cover the expenses of operating the High Speed Network.

Based on consultation with telecom engineers and service providers, staff proposed changes to the customer service policy to restrict retransmission unless a service provider agrees to pay the new retransmission rate.

The retransmission rate — called an “off-network” rate — provides for the retransmit of signal using wireless or other means while charging a premium rate and limiting the total amount of data that can be transmitted at any given time. The service will be offered with a maximum bandwidth of 50,100, or 1,000 Mbps with associated rates of $75, $150, and $500 per month. This product and rate schedule will be evaluated annually to ensure a balance of competitive product offerings and associated pricing.

Commissioners’ discussion Tuesday also included their own directive that staff take $7 million from existing Reserve and Contingency (R&C) Fund reserves for continued expansion of the High-Speed Network in 2018, as long as the R&C fund level doesn’t drop below the $120 million target.

PUD General Manager Kevin Nordt shared that staff would be back in early 2018 with a plan for how best to utilize the additional funding. “We know how to build out (fiber) but we want to build it out in areas that are the most efficient,” said Nordt.

In other news…

2018 Budget Update (TIMESTAMP 2:39:00): Commissioners were updated on a $10.5 million increase to the 2018 preliminary budget of $263.8 million. Chief Financial Officer Jeff Bishop explained that the reasons for the change to the budget centered around changes to “CIAC revenues” (the contributions individuals, developers and companies make to expand or upgrade their electric service), net wholesale power sales revenues and an additional $7 million in capital to fund fiber expansion in 2018. The board is expected to take action on the 2018 budget at their next regularly scheduled business meeting on December 12.

Resolution 8863 (TIMESTAMP 4:23:15)- Resolution adopting a Crescent Bar comprehensive water system plan: This plan, required by the state departments of health and ecology, authorizes crews to proceed with the construction of the remaining water system improvements at Crescent Bar. Now that the board has approved the plan, it is anticipated that the Washington State Department of Health will issue approval of a water system plan by the end of the year. The improvements underway at Crescent Bar resolve outstanding issues associated with water pressure, supply, quality, reliability and fire protection in time for the 2018 recreation season. Per the settlement agreement with island leaseholders, the costs associated with operating the Crescent Bar water system are borne by the users of the water. Currently, costs associated with water service are included in leaseholder payments and are split with 90 percent of the cost for improvements going to leaseholders and 10 percent to Grant PUD.  The resolution passed unanimously.

Resolution 8864 (TIMESTAMP 4:24:00)- Resolution accepting a Bid for Awarding contract 430-077770 for Crescent Bar Water System Stage 2. This resolution paves the way for final completion of the Crescent Bar Island water system. Specific improvements under the contract include: a new potable water system well house, inwell pumps, motors and controls, new chlorination equipment, installation of new water meters, backflow preventers, leaseholder connections, and installation of fire hydrants throughout the leased area. The new water system rectifies existing water system deficiencies and satisfies requirements of the Washington State Department of Health, Grant County Fire Marshal and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). The contract for the work was slightly below the engineers estimate and awarded to low bidder, KRCI LLC of East Wenatchee for a not to exceed amount of $1,804,947.61 and has a completion date of July 27, 2018. The resolution passed unanimously.

Resolution 8865- Resolution establishing Rate Schedule No. WD1: This rate schedule follows months of conversation with both the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation (USBR) and the Columbia Basin Irrigation Districts and spells out new cost-based charges for wholesale wheeling services. Under the former contract which expired earlier this year, USBR was not charged for these services, and going forward will be charged per the rate schedule No. WD1. Darvin Fales of the Quincy Columbia Basin Irrigation District provided public comment in advance of the board’s consideration of the resolution and requested that the board not act on the resolution until local irrigation districts and the USBR have time to review and sign a temporary MOU extending service into late 2018. This extension would allow the USBR, local Irrigation Districts and Grant PUD additional time to work toward finalization of a long term wheeling agreement. After discussion among the commission, it was determined that the resolution would be tabled until the December 12 meeting.

Resolution 8866 (TIMESTAMP 4:26:50) – Resolution of Public Utility District No. 2 of Grant County, Washington, Providing for the Issuance of Electric System Revenue and Refunding Bonds of the District in the Aggregate Principal Amount of not to Exceed $80,000,000 for the Purpose of Refunding Certain Electric System Bonds and Financing Capital Improvements to the Electric System; and Delegating Authority to Approve the Final Terms of the Bonds: With recent developments regarding tax reform, staff recommended moving up the refunding that was scheduled for Q3 of 2018 to the current month’s (December) financing effort. Commissioner Schaapman commented that, “I would like to thank staff for their due diligence on having forward thinking and getting some of this retired prior to the year…We had some tax benefits that we were concerned about so kudos for being ahead of schedule.” The resolution passed unanimously.

Motion 3227 (TIMESTAMP 4:41:29) Commissioners approved indemnification of Chris Heimbigner and authorized Steve Winterbauer and Winterbauer and Diamond to defend Mr. Heimbigner in pending litigation filed by Wayne Black against Grant PUD and Mr. Heimbigner. The motion passed unanimously.

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Recap of the Nov. 14 commission meeting

Commissioners back continued funding for fiber build out

After months of study and deliberations, receiving feedback from customers and recommendations from staff, Grant PUD’s board of commissioners came to a preliminary consensus on how to fund fiber expansion for 2018.

Chief Financial Officer Jeff Bishop presented to the board the current financial condition of the fiber network (a negative cash-flow of $1.86 million in 2016, not including interest, depreciation and cost of existing backbone fiber), and also presented options to pay for expansion of the fiber foot-print (currently available to 70% of the county) by either deferring capital projects (which would result in increased risk and cost of keeping the electric system reliable) or raising rates on the electric system. He also presented staff’s proposal of using revenues or cost savings generated by the fiber system above the $1.86 million subsidy to pay for expanding the fiber system to the remaining 30% of the county.

Following Bishop’s presentation, the board discussed ideas for expansion. Commissioner Tom Flint said he believed the utility needed to follow through with building out fiber to those who do not have access to a broadband service.

Commissioner Bob Bernd said the PUD needed to deliver on its promise of bringing fiber to locations who early on had overwhelmingly said they wanted fiber and were still waiting for it, especially in portions inside the city limits of Ephrata and Moses Lake.

Commissioner Terry Brewer said he agreed that Grant PUD should consider expanding if it could do so without being a financial hardship on the utility or mean that needed projects are delayed or deferred.

Commissioner Dale Walker said he believed that the utility had the money in cash reserves to fund expansion.

Chief Executive Officer Kevin Nordt suggested that the board look at money in the Reserve and Contingency Fund and use money above the target of $155 million to pay for expanding the network.

That decision would be reviewed annually until the fiber expansion is complete. Nordt said he would have staff determine what that amount would be at the end of this year and then those dollars will be budgeted for fiber expansion in 2018. Staff would present the commissioners with a plan for funding and expansion for their approval in an upcoming meeting.

Commissioner Larry Schaapman said that he would like to try this approach for a year and then have it reviewed annually to make sure it does not harm the utility’s financial position.

Brewer asked if the utility would be able to physically deploy fiber expansion in 2018 even if there is funding. Nordt said the Network staff has developed preliminary plans by looking into locations that would be the least costly to reach and should be able to have recommendations for expansion areas in a timely manner.

The commissioners stated that they wanted to see the utility work with Internet Service Providers and customers on the build out so there was some assurance that fiber is going to areas where there will be a high take rate and commitment from prospective customers.

“We need to take fiber to places where the people are going to use it,” Flint said.

In other business:

  • The Grant PUD Safety Continuous Improvement Team No. 2 members were introduced to the board. Members are Mike Bradshaw, Luis Sanchez, R.J. Fronsman, Jared Mooney, Joe Boitano, Russ Seiler, Brian Black, Tim Crawford, Kevin McAlexander, Ryan Roeder, Jared Youngers, Susy Anderson, Rob Sage and Nels Hanson. Board president Larry Schaapman thanked the team and others involved in improving the safety culture of the utility. “Hats off to you guys and the work you’re doing and follow up follow through is key,” he said.
  • The commission passed resolution 8862 – Resolution of Public Utility District No. 2 of Grant County, Washington, Providing for the Issuance of Electric System Revenue Refunding Bonds of the District in the Aggregate Principal Amount of Not to Exceed $50,500,000 for the Purpose of Repaying the Electric System Revenue Bonds, Series 2014‐K; and Delegating Authority to Approve the Final Terms of the Bonds.
  • The commission also passed a motion authorizing the General Manager, on behalf of Grant PUD, to execute Change Order No. 20 to Contract 330‐4018R with Knight Construction and Supply, Inc., for work on the Wanapum Dam Spillway Gate Painting and Trunnion Rehabilitation project, increasing the not‐to‐exceed contract price by $302,665.00 for a new contract total of $15,913,565.00, modifying the completion date in accordance with change order documents, and resetting the delegated authority levels to the authority granted to the General Manager per Resolution No. 8609 for charges incurred as a result of Change Order No. 20. (3223)
  • The commission approved a motion authorizing the General Manager, on behalf of Grant PUD, to execute Change Order No. 8 to Contract 230‐4201 with Long Painting, increasing the not‐to‐exceed contract price by $607,473.00 for a new contract total of $3,270,091.67, to remove the lead paint on the generating units at Priest Rapids Dam and recoat them, revising scope of service, modifying contract completion dates in accordance with change order documents, and resetting the delegated authority levels to the authority granted to the General Manager per Resolution No. 8609 for charges incurred as a result of Change Order No. 8. (3224)

The commission approved payment of Cave B invoice dated September 27, 2017, in the amount of $15,409.94. The amount pays for Grant PUD’s expense in hosting the 2017 Shoreline Management Workshop in September.

Next meeting is Nov. 29 at Ephrata Headquarters, 30 C. Street SW.

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Mattawa students get a close-up look at spawning

MATTAWA — A smattering of small, bright-orange orbs lay on the dark asphalt of the Priest Rapids Hatchery spawning area like pearls suddenly set free from a broken necklace. They attracted fifth graders like a magnet.

“What is that?” Asked one of boys in a louder-than-speaking voice. He bent over for a closer look.

“Eeeew! Don’t touch it,” said another, rushing over. A huddle quickly formed – and clamor grew – around and over the curious spheres. What could they be?

More than 60 fifth graders from Mattawa's Morris Schott STEAM Elementary got a close-up look at salmon spawning Nov. 6 at Grant PUD's Priest Rapids Hatchery.

More than 60 fifth graders from Mattawa’s Morris Schott STEAM Elementary got a close-up look at salmon spawning Nov. 6 at Grant PUD’s Priest Rapids Hatchery.

This inquisitive bunch of students from Mattawa’s Morris Schott STEAM Elementary School were getting their first look at real salmon eggs, and they were about to see tens of thousands more.

The 64 students – two classrooms worth – and their teachers Erin Tostenson and Laura Catlin got an up-close look Nov. 6 at both the human-assisted and natural ways fall Chinook salmon spawn. See a video of their visit here.

Led by Grant PUD biologists Eric Lauver and Rolland O’Connor, the group watched state Department of Fish and Wildlife hatchery workers corralling the previously trapped Chinook, euthanizing them with a blow to the head and tossing them onto a special tray for the next step in the process.

The students and other guests watched, as fish processors expertly sliced open the females, catching their thousands of eggs in white buckets, and squirting the white “milt” – seminal fluid – from the males into the buckets to fertilize the eggs.

“That was my favorite part,” student Litzy Ramirez said with a smile. “It was very satisfying.”
“What you’ve just seen is the spawning process,” PUD biologist Lauver told the group. “In the wild, the female would dig what in the gravel?”

“A redd!” the kids responded of the depression in the riverbed the female excavates with swishes of her tail to hold her deposit of eggs – somewhere between 3,600 and 4,000 of them per redd.

Grant PUD Biologist Eric Lauver explains how fertilized salmon eggs are incubated in trays filled with circulating cold water until they develop into tiny "frye" -- baby fish.

Grant PUD Biologist Eric Lauver explains how fertilized salmon eggs are incubated in trays filled with circulating cold water until they develop into tiny “frye” — baby fish.

They’d been studying the salmon lifecycle as part of an ecosystem lesson at school, Teacher Tostenson said. Like the STEAM in its name indicates, the school is focused on a curriculum heavy on science, technology, engineering, art and math.

Each classroom built a terrarium on top of an aquarium filled with guppies and snails to observe how whatever is deposited into the terrarium soil can leach into the water below, affecting the aquatic flora and fauna.

“We’re learning what the PUD does to maintain the health of the river, and what they (the students) can do,” Tostenson said.

The PUD annually spends about $15 million to support operations and maintenance of approximately 20 hatcheries, hatchery programs and fish-rearing facilities throughout the Columbia Basin. The cost includes habitat improvements, control of birds and fish that feast on young salmon, and monitoring and evaluation of hatchery and wild fish populations in the region.

In the wild, a male salmon releases his milt over the eggs as they are being deposited in the redd. The female covers them with a layer of gravel to protect them until they hatch into tiny frye.

Teachers Laura Catlin (left) and Erin Tostenson shepherded their fifth graders  among the raceways, spawning rooms and fish channel -- no easy task!

Teachers Laura Catlin (left) and Erin Tostenson shepherded their fifth graders among the raceways, incubation rooms and fish channel — no easy task!

At the hatchery, the crew places the fertilized eggs onto trays infused with circulating cold-water until they hatch – about 12 weeks.

As the Chinook grow, they’re transferred first to outdoor raceways inside chain-link cages to protect them from predators, then to larger rearing tanks until they’re ready for release into the Columbia River for their 400-mile journey to the ocean.

Many Chinook spawn naturally right in the hatchery’s water-filled channel to the Columbia. The tour ended with the students getting a close-up look at the females and bright-red males doing what nature intended.

“Their tails are very strong,” Lauver said of the females. They’ll stay with the redd until they get so weak they fall over and die.”

Student Francisco Capi, listened intently, after peppering Lauver with questions.

“Oh, pobrecitos! (poor things!),” he said softly in Spanish and headed off with his classmates to board the bus.

Story and photos by Christine Pratt, cpratt@gcpud.org, Grant PUD Public Affairs.

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