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Commission recap 10-22-2019: Grant PUD's fiber network set to continue expansion in 2020

With the official completion of Grant PUD's fiber-optic network to customers in Sunland Estates, expansion work is now complete for two of the nine predetermined areas scheduled to get service this year. Construction continues to progress on the remaining seven areas slated to receive access in 2019.

Grant PUD's Senior Manager of Wholesale Fiber, Russ Brethower, told commissioners delays in materials has pushed back construction completion for the remaining 2019 expansion areas. Crews anticipate four of the areas slated for service this year will still get it this year, but slightly later than expected. While this year's final three predetermined areas can anticipate network access within the first two months of 2020.

Network expansion is anticipated to continue throughout next year, pending final approval of Grant PUD's 2020 budget. Next year's budget proposes $13.3 million towards expanding the fiber-optic network. If approved, expansion efforts would provide service to areas 10 to 15 of the total 40 areas on Grant PUD's predetermined expansion list. This work would bring service to more than 1,200 new potential customers next year. Exacting timing for construction completion within these areas is still to be determined.

Along with construction updates, Brethower also reported that participation on Grant PUD's fiber network continues to grow. To-date the network has seen a 14% increase in the number of users compared to last year.

Through Sept. 1, 740 new subscribers have joined the network in 2019. This increase has resulted in the network achieving a system-wide take rate of 58%, already surpassing the end-of-year take-rate goal of 56.5%.

For a full list of the anticipated expansion sequence and additional info regarding Grant PUD's fiber-optic network, visit www.grantpud.org/getfiber

(View the presentation here on pages 35 to 45. Listen to the discussion beginning at 01:20:15 on the commission audio.)

Cooler summer weather contributes to lower retail energy sales

Grant PUD's energy sales and rate revenue were both below budgeted targets during 2019's third quarter. The variance was associated with the below average daily high temperatures and cooling degree days within our region. The combination reduced the need for customers to use their cooling systems as much as anticipated during the summer months.

Grant PUD Data Analyst Shaun Harrington reported to commissioners that energy sales totaled just over 1.35 million megawatt hours for the quarter – 5.8% below the forecasted 1.4 million megawatt hours. Total retail revenue for the quarter was down 5.7% the budgeted forecast of nearly $58 million. Actual retail revenue for the quarter was $54.7 million.

Harrington said the biggest driver leading to lower-than-anticipated energy sales and rate revenue was the decreased number of cooling-degree days. Cooling-degree days, or the number of degrees that a day's average temperature is above 65 degrees, was 23% lower than average from July through September.

Amongst retail customers, irrigation loads and revenues during the same time period were above forecasts. Load for irrigation customers was 11.6% higher than forecasted while revenues were 11% more than anticipated.

Harrington shared information that showed lower moisture conditions within the region may have led to the irrigation customers variance.

Overall reduced retail energy sales resulted in an increase in wholesale energy sales through Grant PUD's wholesale marketing contracts.

Year-to-date estimates through September for retail load sales are 2.1% lower whereas projected energy revenue is up slighting at 0.9% during the same time period.

(View the presentation on slides here on pages 10 to 20. Listen to the discussion beginning at 01:10:15 on the commission audio.)

Commissioners also:

— Heard that Power Delivery is making modification to help cut down on outages.

Jeff Grizzel, Managing Director of Power Delivery, told commissioners about an upgrade line crews are making to help cut down on the number of power-pole fires that cause outages in Grant County.

Grizzel said old porcelain power cutouts that have been used to hold fuses on power poles can develop conditions increasing the potential for power pole fires. He explained that the porcelain cutouts can develop small cracks, which collect dust and other sediments. When it rains, the dust and sediment can become liquified and then carry an electrical current that produces enough heat to catch the wooden poles on fire.

To remedy the situation, Grizzel said line crews are now changing out the porcelain cutouts to polymer cutouts that are resistant to cracking and collecting less dust and sediment whenever they perform needed to do maintenance on poles and are also looking to specifically replace the porcelain cutouts in problem areas.

There are tens of thousands of the porcelain cutouts throughout the district. He said the crews will be able to replace between 1,000 and 2,000 of the cutouts on an annual basis.

(See Grizzel's presentation here on pages 21 to 34. Listen to the discussion beginning at 02:04:20 on the commission audio.)

Polymer cutout

Porcelain cutout

— Unanimously approved renewal of the utility's property and liability insurance coverage through its insurance broker, Beecher Carlson. Coverage for the renewal begins Nov. 1 with estimated premiums totaling $2,155,550. See full details on page 8 to 10 of the commission packet.