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.”
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.
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.