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Commission Meeting 10-26-2021: Wholesale fiber group works to overcome potential challenges securing materials

Wholesale fiber group works to overcome potential challenges securing materials

As the expansion of Grant PUD's fiber-optic network continues, the Wholesale Fiber Group anticipates future challenges in the amount of lead-time needed to secure materials. Supply chains for fiber-optic cable and other fiber-related materials are expected to be tight throughout the next year.

Senior Manager of Wholesale Fiber Russ Brethower told commissioners that the combination of the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on manufacturers and the recently approved federal subsidies for broadband infrastructure are causing delays throughout the entire industry.

"It is going to get worse before it gets better," said Brethower.

However, Brethower credits the efforts of staff to find and procure materials to ensure that each of the areas planned for completion in 2021 will still be achieved. Currently crews have completed construction through area 17 of the 40-area expansion sequence list. Crews will complete construction on areas 18 and 19 before years end.

The department has a goal to complete the design work for the remaining areas early in 2023. This will allow the department to have a better sense of what the exact material needs will be for the remaining construction efforts in 2023 and beyond.

Brethower shared, that although exact dates are to be determined, the group anticipates completing construction and having service available for customers in areas 20 through 26 by the end of 2022.

The group is on pace to achieve four of the five 2021 priorities. These priorities include construction efforts for new areas, a 67% system-wide take rate, achieving a 99.98% average system availability uptime, and upgrades of its oldest community hubs. The 2021 top priority of upgrading the network's core electronics will not be accomplished until the middle of 2022.

Through September, more than 2,700 new customers have activated service in 2021, which now has a 67% "take-rate," or the number of households and businesses utilizing the network.

Brethower reported that through September total revenue for the network was $9.1 million, exceeding the year-to-date target of $8.2 million. The revenue is from billing private companies that utilize the network including the service-provider companies that sell internet, telephone, and cable TV services to Grant County customers over the network.

See the details of the presentation on pages 54-67 of the presentation materials. Hear the discussion beginning at 4:58:50 of the commission audio.

Hot weather helps push retail energy sales above the third-quarter budget forecast

Retail energy sales at Grant County PUD (excluding Rate Schedule 94 New Load) were $3.74 million -- more than 6% -- above the quarter's budget forecast, Grant PUD Senior Financial Analyst Amanpreet Singh told commissioners.

Third-quarter load – retail customer demand for electricity (excluding Rate Schedule 94 New Load) – rose about 7% more than budget forecast.

Hotter-than-expected weather during this period increased energy consumption for residential and commercial customers. For irrigators, higher precipitation offset the weather impact of higher winds.

Large General Service, Rate Schedule 7, combined with Rate Schedule 14 ended the quarter 12% above budget forecast, attributable to an increase in cryptocurrency mining.

Large industrials, impacted by supply chain interruptions, showed signs of load contraction. Energy use in Rate Schedule 16, Ag Food Processing, was down more than 3% compared to the budget forecast, due to no load for one customer that had a facility incident in the past.

See the full presentation on pages 20-39 of the presentation materials. Hear the discussion at 1:19:53 of the commission audio.

Work continues to increase electric system reliability, efficiency

Grant PUD electric- system improvement projects around the county to increase system capacity, reduce power-outage times and manage system components more efficiently are expected to allow the utility to achieve its system reliability goals by the end of 2022, Jeff Grizzel, managing director of Power Delivery told commissioners.

Power Delivery will exceed its third-quarter budget of $31 million by more than 10%, as engineers and crews make gains on upgrades to substations and other aged infrastructure, build a new transmission line to increase the power capacity in the Quincy area. A new geographic mapping system, based on the ESRI platform, will bring new efficiencies when it goes live in approximately May 2022.

Ongoing work on these projects spurred a 47% increase in overtime pay. Purchased-service costs are up 32%, as Grant PUD turns to more work for contact crews to help with the workload, Grizzel said. The cost of purchased materials is up 29%.

"This reflects the large volume of work going on in Power Delivery," Grizzel said. "And it's going to continue for the rest of the year."

See the full presentation on pages 40-53 of the presentation materials. Hear the discussion at 1:43:53 of the commission audio.

Grant PUD prepares to submit Clean Energy Implementation Plan

Staff reviewed with commissioners Grant PUD's efforts to develop and prepare for its filing of the utility's Clean Energy Implementation Plan. The plan is an initial requirement of the state's Clean Energy Transformation Act, known as CETA, which was signed into law in 2019. The act requires all of Washington electrical utilities to transition to clean, renewable, and non-emitting generation resources by 2045.

The plan provides a near-term look at the utility's clean energy strategy with interim targets through 2025. Grant PUD will submit its plan to the state Department of Commerce by Jan. 1, 2022, and then every four years after that. The plan will also provide information on how to ensure its approach will provide an equitable transition to 100% clean energy for all customers while achieving energy efficiency and demand response targets.

Senior Manager of Wholesale Marketing, Rich Flanigan said the plan allows Grant PUD to demonstrate progress towards the 2030 CETA standard where all utility energy portfolios must be greenhouse gas emissions neutral, while also protecting customers against significant rate impacts.

Energy Service Specialist Eric Hector shared with commissioners the targets the plan establishes to reduce the energy burden on vulnerable population and highly impacted communities. He added that the utility has engaged Grant County's helping agencies to gather ideas, customer's interests, concerns and needs. The utility will gather additional input by providing surveys to low-income residential customers during energy audits, via third-party helping agencies, and by mail.

View the presentation on pages 107-130 of the presentation materials. Read more about the proposed plan on pages 160-250 of the commission packet. Hear the discussion beginning at 4:00:00 of the commission audio.

Commissioners also:

-- Thanked Senior Manager of Financial Planning and Analysis John Mertlich and his team for their work on the utility's proposed $397.5 million budget for 2022 and the extra effort this year to give commissioners a detailed look at the budget's components. Learn more about the 2022 budget here. Commissioners are expected to vote on the 2022 budget at their scheduled meeting Nov. 23.

-- Thanked and bid farewell to Grant PUD's Chief Financial Officer Jeff Bishop, who has accepted a new job as chief financial officer and vice-president of finance at the Omaha Public Power District in Nebraska. His last day at Grant PUD will be Nov. 1. "It's been great being at the District for the last 4.5 years," Bishop said, responding to the many well-wishes. "Everything is well-positioned. Moving forward, it's exciting to see where Grant's going to go. You can guarantee that I'll be watching from a distance and rooting for Team Grant."

-- Heard from Rich Cole, Customer Service Program supervisor, regarding Grant PUD's energy conservation potential per the Energy Independence Act. The act requires Grant PUD to review prior conservation efforts and future conservation efforts by a utility specific analysis. The 10-year potential and 2-year target are reviewed every 2years by the commission. The utility's estimated 10-year conservation potential is 161,272 MWh and the 2-year target is 40,033 MWh.

See the details of the presentation on pages 107-118 of the presentation materials and pages 16-24 of the commission packet. Hear the discussion beginning at 4:36:50 of the commission audio.

In other business:

-- Unanimously approved Resolution 3376 to authorize the General Manager/CEO on behalf of Grant PUD to bind the 2021-2022 property and liability policy renewals through Grant PUD's insurance broker Beecher Carlson for an estimated cost of $3.2 million. For more detail, see pages 11-13 of the commission packet.

-- Unanimously approved Resolution to appoint Big Bend Community College educator Terry Pyle to the commission and observed as Grant PUD Chief Counsel Mitch Delabarre administered the oath of office to new District 2 Commissioner. Pyle was unanimously chosen by the board to replace Commissioner Dale Walker, who died in Aug. 8. "I appreciate the vote of confidence and am excited to get going," Pyle said. Learn more about Pyle here.

Terry Pyle raises hand while being sworn in as a commissioner