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Commission recap 1/28/2020: Fiber-optics on the rise

Lessons learned from 2019 to help future fiber expansion

Although 2019 had its share of challenges with expanding Grant PUD's fiber-optic network, the accomplishments from the past year provided valuable insights while setting a very high bar for future expansion efforts.

This was the message Grant PUD's Senior Manager of Wholesale Fiber, Russ Brethower told commissioners on Tuesday as he shared the outcomes of last year's priorities and outlined the group's goals for 2020.

In 2018 the Wholesale Fiber Group identified 40 remaining expansion areas and established a sequence for reaching each area. Nine of these previously unserved areas were slated for completion in 2019. Permitting and material delays led to five of those areas still waiting for network access.

Brethower said that coordinating the correct number of crews at the right time, along with getting the necessary materials and permits, have been the biggest challenges. However, the group has learned from these efforts and taken the necessary steps to ensure many of those issues won't be as large a hindrance in the future.

General Manger and CEO Kevin Nordt gave his compliments to the team for their efforts in 2019. Even considering some of the delays with permitting and supplies, the work that was achieved set a pretty high standard, he said.

This year, the group will look to complete construction as soon as possible for the remaining 2019 targeted expansion waiting for completion. The group will also finish construction to areas 10 to 15 of the predetermined expansion sequence.See the expansion sequence here.

Brethower told commissioners that the two 2019 expansion areas facing delays due to permitting will require approximately four weeks to complete construction, once all the permits have been received.

Usage or "take rate" of the network also continues to grow. The targeted take rate for the end of 2019 was 56.5%. Last year, network participation grew by 2,362 subscribers, resulting in an end-of-year system-wide take rate of 57.45%. The goal for 2020 is to grow the network take rate to 60%.

Commissioner Nelson Cox shared his appreciation for the work of the Wholesale Fiber Group and its contractors. He pointed out comments he's received from the public regarding construction in the expansion areas and shared his thanks to everyone involved.

Total revenue from fiber-optic service ended 2019 at nearly $9.6 million, surpassing the $8.9 million goal that was set at the start of the year. All that revenue is from billing to the private, service-provider companies that sell internet, telephone and cable TV services to Grant County customers over the Grant PUD fiber network.

View Brethower's presentation here on pages 19-33. Listen to the discussion starting at 1:38:35 on the commission audio.

 World-class system coming for mapping, maintenance, design, tracking

Customers will benefit from a "light-years" improvement in electric and fiber-system reliability, design, efficiency, operation and tracking within the next few years, as Grant PUD prepares to switch to ESRI Geographic Information System (GIS) mapping to keep tabs on its networks, countywide.

That'll free-up staff time, lower costs and add efficiencies that reduce the need to increase electric rates.

"This is light years beyond what we have now and it underpins efficiency and safety," Grant PUD General Manager and CEO Kevin Nordt told commissioners, who received an early look Tuesday at what ESRI will mean for the utility and its customers.

The new system will become a one-source computer program that integrates most everything staff needs to efficiently design system improvements, troubleshoot, keep track of work already done and in progress, and diagnose vulnerable areas to make them more resilient from outages.

It will eventually replace the recently updated system to notify and dispatch crews to the field to find and repair outages and do system maintenance.

Current tracking includes a handful of outdated software packages, and, especially on the fiber side, reliance on paper maps and spreadsheets that require manual data entry and in-the-field verification by Grant PUD staffers.

Commissioners will learn more about the project's expected cost and timeline in the coming weeks. Full deployment of the new system is expected in approximately 2 years.

The GIS computer program processes and stores data linked to certain locations, such as the individual components of each pole in the Grant PUD electric system. It differs from a Global Position System (GPS), which is a network that locates places on earth.

Susie Anderson, Grant PUD Engineering Services supervisor and a project team member, said some 500 utilities worldwide use a form of the ESRI GIS system. ESRI — Environmental Systems Research Institute — is considered a world leader in building GIS mapping systems.

View the entire GIS presentation here, pages 87-100. Listen to the discussion at 4:18:10 on the commission audio.

Commissioners also:

— Heard that the Power Delivery Division, which operates, maintains and improves the electric system, ended 2019 spending 67% of its total capital budget and 98% of its total operations and maintenance budget. Reliability targets for system availability and outage time both missed their targets in 2019. Total outage time came in 168 minutes above the targeted 110 minutes.

Managing Director of Power Delivery Jeff Grizzel told commissioners work is underway to reduce outage time by:

  • oAnalyzing where the system needs to be improved and made more robust.
  • oContinue to have crews in the field working to replace metal pole "cutouts" with polymer ones on poles vulnerable to dust collection from plowing of nearby fields. Dust from the plowing activity settles on these metal components. After a light rain, the dust can become electrically charged, causing heat that transfers to the wood pole and starts fires. Crews replaced 540 of these components in 2019, but have many thousands more to go.

Grizzel also highlighted major accomplishments of 2019 and initiatives for 2020. For more detail, view the Power Production presentation here, pages 60-72. Listen to the discussion at 3:35:10 on the commission audio.

— Heard that electric load — energy demand by Grant PUD customers — come in 1.1% below expectations overall in 2019, but revenue from retail energy sales ended the year 1.4% above expectation. Shaun Harrington, Grant PUD rates-data analyst attributed the variance to energy use among residential, commercial and irrigation customers ending the year ahead of projections, while expected production ramp-ups on the industrial side happened slower than expected. Customers used 5.1 million megawatt hours of electricity in 2019, down from the budget of 5.2 million megawatts. Total revenue from that energy totaled nearly $209 million, up from the budgeted $206 million. For more details see Harrington's Retail Load & Revenue Report here, pages 73-86. Listen to the discussion at 4:08:20 on the commission audio.

— Heard about a newly developed leadership safety training program developed by one of the utility's continuous improvement teams. The project was initiated by the Safety Steering Committee following a 2018 safety perception survey, which showed opportunities to improve the process of supervisor safety training.

The team shared their outcomes of standardizing the safety training process for leaders across Grant PUD. Listen to the discussion starting at 2:09:15 on the commission audio and see their presentation to the commission on pages 34-59 here.

Commissioners unanimously approved:

— A $33.4 million contract with lowest bidder IMCO General Construction, Inc. of Ferndale, Wash. to build a secondary, more seismic-resistant embankment of roller-compacted concrete and concrete piles on the Yakima County side of Priest Rapids Dam. The project is a federal requirement to ensure the integrity of the dam during seismic events. IMCO's bid was nearly $13 million less than Grant PUD's engineer estimate of $46.24 million. The bid is both commercially and technically compliant with Grant PUD's contract requirments. The bid was the lowest of four received. For details about the bid, view the commission packet, pages 8-18. Commissioners approved the bid with no further discussion. This total contract amount is subject to change, depending on the location of the quarry that will source the gravel for this project. That detail is being finalized.

—A contract for the utility's tree trimming and removal services. The $1.7 million contract with Basin Tree Service & Pest Control is set to run from February 2020 through December 2021. Grant PUD has contracted these services for several years to trim or remove trees that pose a threat topower lines causing an outage.Read more about this resolution in the commission packet, pages 19-23.

— A change order to an existing contract with Brazil Quality Services for additional monitoring and inspection of the manufacturing in Brazil, China and Canada of replacement parts for needed turbine/generator upgrades at Priest Rapids Dam. The change order increases the contract amount by $2.4 million dollars for a new not-to-exceed contract price of $6.7 million. Read more about this motion in the commission packet, pages 24-31.

— A change order to an existing contract with the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife increasing the existing contract total by $1.5 million. The contract allows a substantial portion of Grant PUD's hatchery mitigation requirements. Grant PUD does not currently have the biological staff needed to complete the required work.Read more about this motion in the commission packet, pages 33-39.

— A change order to an existing contract with the Carlton Acclimation Facility Operation to allow for continued implementation of Grant PUD's mitigation requirements for Methow Basin summer Chinook. The contract will be extended through February of 2025 and increase by $995,591. Read more about this motion in the commission packet, pages 40-51.

Important dates:

Jan. 29 and Feb. 5: Public hearings on the proposed Red Rock Transmission Line. Both take place at 4 p.m. at the Port of Royal Slope main office, 4975 Road 13.5 SW, Royal City.