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Commission Meeting 8-24-2021: Upgrades coming to the fiber network’s core technologies

This year's top priority of the Wholesale Fiber Network is to upgrade the network's core equipment. On Tuesday commissioners learned about the department's plans for upgrading the hardware and other technology components of the network's core which will increase data capacity and ensure the network is ready for the next 10-20 years.

Although the existing network has proven reliable for customers throughout Grant County, it was developed more than 15-years ago and is in need of a of a redesign to meet the long-term needs of the utility said Chief Technology Officer, Derin Bluhm.

The current network has exceeded its growth capacity and much of the equipment is due to be replaced. The upgrades will provide a standardized approach with regards to the equipment being deployed. This will allow the network to achieve long-term performance requirements, offer scalability, and increase the cost-effectiveness of routine maintenance.

Senior Manager of Wholesale Fiber, Russ Brethower explained that once implemented the system upgrades will offer service providers more capabilities and something that will benefit all fiber customers by increasing the overall performance of the network.

Nokia Networks is being recommended to the commission as the preferred contractor for the $3.8 million project. Once the contract is approved by the commission, it is anticipated work to implement the upgrades will begin later this fall. The project is scheduled for completion during the second quarter of 2022.

General Manager/CEO, Kevin Nordt added that the investment to the network will support the utility for years to come.

See the full presentation on pages 1-12 of the presentations materials and hear the discussion beginning at 40:50:09 of the commission audio.

Irrigators continue appeal for lower wheeling rate

Representatives of the Quincy and East Columbia Basin irrigation districts and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation urged commissioners to create a unique, lower "wheeling" rate for Columbia Basin Project irrigation districts whose pumps use federal electricity to deliver Columbia River water to area farms.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) responded to a petition from both districts, the South Columbia Basin Irrigation District and the Bureau that Grant PUD could create a special wheeling rate without violating federal law.

The districts say Grant PUD's current, cost-of-service-based rate to transport the federal power over a Grant PUD-owned transmission line is too burdensome. Affected irrigators pay $800,000 for the service under an existing agreement.

They've proposed a lower wheeling rate they say would sustain the county's agriculture and fairly compensate Grant PUD. Grant PUD officials have said the proposed rates would not cover the cost to provide the transmission service.

Commission President Larry Schaapman said the commission would discuss the latest proposal with staff.

Grant PUD entered into an agreement with the Bonneville Power Administration decades ago to purchase a BPA transmission line. Conditions included Grant PUD's agreement to not charge for wheeling for 40 years. That agreement ended June 30, 2017. Since then, Grant PUD, the Bureau and irrigators have been operating under yearly wheeling agreements.

Hear the discussion at 3:22:11:16 on the commission audio.

Rate schedule updates planned to better serve customer needs

Grant PUD's schedule of electric rates will be modernized to better suit customer needs for renewable energy, create a more precise method of charging irrigators and cover the costs of ancillary services needed to maintain a reliable power supply. Plans include:

  • Creating a longer-term mechanism for specified-source power, such as solar or wind. The existing Rate Schedule 13SS must be renewed annually.
  • Defining costs for services such as power scheduling, system controls, regulation and balancing to ensure the electric system can operate in a reliable manner.
  • Creating a basic "point-to-point" transmission rate needed to transmit power from solar or wind farms. Grant PUD officials expect the county's first solar farm will go online in Fall 2023.
  • Create a more precise billing method for electricity that powers irrigation pumps. Irrigation customers are currently billed based on their pumps' stated horsepower. The updated billing would replace horsepower charge with a charge based on actual peak power demand, similar to the way industrial customers are billed.

Staff will have more information about the proposed changes in the coming months. Customers will have time to provide feedback , Chief Customer Officer Dave Churchman said.

Hear the discussion at 4:25:42:14 on the commission audio. View the presentation on pages 77-90 in the presentation materials.

Commissioners also:

-- Asked staff for workshops that would provide more detailed information about the 2022 draft budget, which is still being written, to make them better able to answer customers' questions. The first public hearing on the 2022 budget is scheduled for Oct. 12.

"We'll provide all that," General Manager and CEO Kevin Nordt said. "It's all information used to build the budget. All the tracking we've been doing over the past several years is helpful, too."

Hear the discussion at 2:22:48:09 on the commission audio. See summarized information about the 2022 draft budget in the FYI packet here.

-- Heard a staff proposal to increase the salary plan and compensation policy for non-bargaining unit employees by 10% to align Grant PUD salaries with those of local and regional public utilities, as well as internal salary compression issues. The policy would not increase salaries by 10% but set parameters for a range of wage increases. The current plan has not been adjusted since 2018. Commissioners will consider approval of the updated salary plan during the next commission meeting.

See the full presentation on pages 30-36 of the presentation materials and hear the discussion beginning at 1:49:37:05 of the commission audio.

-- Heard from Chris Roseburg, Manager within the EPMO/OCM Department as he provided an overview of the group's efforts to successfully deliver on the utility's major capital projects while producing safe and quality outcomes.

Roseburg shared the recently launched project status dashboard. The dashboard provides various status indicators of the utility's projects the department manages. The group is currently overseeing 39 active projects and 22 change events across the company.

The department is on pace to spend approximately $101 million of its $121 million approved capital project budgeted in 2021. Roseburg attributed the difference in postponements experienced on various projects.

See the full report on pages 38-76 of the commission presentation materials and hear the discussion beginning at 2:24:46:19 and 3:52:20:07 of the commission audio.

-- Unanimously approved a resolution to file the proposed 2022 budget, setting dates for public hearings and authorizing notice of the meetings.

-- Unanimously authorized the General Manager/CEO on behalf of Grant PUD to execute Contract 120-11030 for the proposed sale of 10% of the Priest Rapids Project output for a 3-year term, commencing Jan. 1, 2022 to Avangrid Renewables.