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Commission recap 11-10-2020: Grant PUD crews work to ensure system reliability despite COVID challenges

Grant PUD's electrical workers are actively focused on safely maintaining the utility's critical electrical and fiber services, despite the challenges of the COVID pandemic, Senior Manager of Power Delivery, Ron Alexander told commissioners Tuesday.

As a precautionary measure due to the Coronavirus, field crews were temporarily split into two groups throughout most of the summer months. Each group worked alternate weeks to protect employee and public health. Since Sept. 14, all crews have resumed their traditional weekly schedules.

Alexander provided details of the group's efforts for the time being to isolate crews from the main service center locations by expanding and strategically placing people in separate work areas which assisted in the ability of crews to return to normal work schedules. The change has also allowed the group to work through a backlog of customer service requests and return to a normal work planning time frame needed to address customer requests.

Other highlights of Alexander's quarterly report include:

  • Maintenance engineers' efforts to assure the compliance and reliability of Grant PUD's electric system. Efforts range from the installation of animal guards to further protect the electrical system to the enhanced used of benchmarking software to track all equipment on the electrical and fiber systems.
  • Plans for additional support to assist with efforts to change out power equipment on power poles to reduce the potential risk of pole fires. In Grant County most pole fires occur following a long dry spell and rain causes "tracking" which generally is pollutants accumulated on the various pole components. This allows a path for current to ground, heating and starting the wood pole on fire.

(See the report on pages 15 to 27 of the staff presentation materials and hear the discussion beginning at 3:12:25 of the commission audio)

During Tuesday's meeting Commissioners also:

— Heard that this year's spending is now forecast to come in $1.67 million below budget. The latest expense update, through September, shows estimated impacts of the COVID pandemic include spending reductions in travel and training, environmental services, fuel and equipment, but increased spending for janitorial services, furniture, personal protective equipment, among others. Total COVID-related labor and benefits spending pegged to the pandemic totaled $9.6 million through Oct. 16. Hear the discussion at 1:26:55 on the commission audio (scroll down to meeting date to find the recording). See the presentation on pages 6-14 of the presentation materials.

— Heard and explanation about the different components that contribute to Grant PUD's total liquid cash savings and the accounting requirements that could affect Grant PUD's metric for days cash on hand. Hear the discussion at 1:00:25 on the commission audio (scroll down to meeting date to find the recording). See the presentation on pages 1-5 of the presentation materials.

— Heard a proposal from commissioners for staff to explore options to possibly preserve a Mattawa-area orchardist's lease on Grant PUD property near the Columbia River. Staff will further explore the issue and get back to the commission at a future meeting.(Hear the discussion at 39:05 on the commission audio)

— Heard from Internal Audit Manager Dmitriy Turchik as he provided the Semi-Annual Internal Audit Report. Turchik highlighted the status of the 2020 internal audits as well as outlining plans for the 2021 internal audits. Next year the group initially plans to conduct seven audits while also keeping up with other emerging risks or additional audit requests. Turchik also shared a summary of a recently completed internal audit of the utility's practices and controls of the company issued purchasing cards (P-Cards). (See the report on pages 40 to 53 of the staff presentation materials and hear the discussion beginning at 3:45:50 of the commission audio)

— Heard that Grant PUD has been active in working to make the state's Clean Energy Transformation Act (CETA) as favorable as possible for Grant PUD and our customers. The act requires the state to achieve a zero-carbon energy supply by 2045. Many aspects of the new act remain unresolved. More clarity is expected by year's end. Traditional hydropower counts toward this goal, Senior Policy Analyst Cliff Sears told commissioners. Grant PUD will also continue to pursue more tax-exempt funding for large projects, including buildout of the fiber-optic network and big construction projects related to the dams and electric system. Hear the discussion at 1:55:20 on the commission audio (scroll down to meeting date to find the recording). See the presentation on pages 28-39 of the presentation materials.

— Unanimously approved a contract with Mitsubishi Electrical Power Products to supply 15kV power circuit breakers for a not-to-exceed contract price of $7,341,250 plus sales tax. The prior contract to supply 15kV circuit breakers expired in December of 2018. Multiple bids were received, and the new agreement contract will expire on December 31, 2025. The contract is anticipated to meet growth over the next five years. See full details on pages 12-24 of the commission packet

— Unanimously approved a change order to an existing contract with Oracle in the amount of $448,240 for a new not to exceed amount of $6,952,452.83. The contract is for Grant PUD's new Customer Cloud Service Project. The change order request is a proactive approach to bring the new program live if it should miss the projected go-live target of Nov. 16. Full details are available on pages 25-30 of the commission packet commission packet.