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Commission recap 12-10-2019: Survey shows customer satisfaction remains high

About eight of every 10 Grant PUD customers show high levels of satisfaction with the utility, according to the results of a recent telephone survey among customers throughout the county.

Senior Manager of External Affairs, Andrew Munro, told commissioners that the results of the biennial survey showed an overall satisfaction score of 82%, down from the 86%-90% range of overall satisfaction scores previous surveys tallied.

The survey scores within each of a series of specific opinion categories are all trending upward compared to past survey satisfaction scores, results show.

Munro said residents continue to recognize the excellent work Grant PUD is doing to serve its customers, minimize outages, keep rates affordable and provide general communications to customers and the public. Although there is room for improvement, it's been a group effort that has led to the positive trend, Munro said.

The survey did reveal two groups of customers whose overall satisfaction was lower than others. Customers who perceived their power bills were not affordable and people who don't think they have access to Grant PUD's high-speed fiber-optic network expressed less overall satisfaction.

Commissioner Dale Walker noted that the communications group has their work cut out for them.

"One thing that was really good about this survey is it gave us two key areas we can focus on," said Chuck Allen, Public Affairs supervisor.

Allen told commissioners that understanding who's the most dissatisfied will help focus the group's outreach and communication efforts.

The survey was first conducted in its current form in 2012. A third-party contractor, Strategies 360, interviewed 400 residential customers the margin of error for the survey is +/- 4.9%

See the full presentation regarding the survey here on pages 40-74. Hear the discussion which begins at 02:53:50 of the commission audio

Three routes considered for new 115-kilovolt transmission line in Royal City

After considering more than 80 possible construction routes for the new "Red Rock" 115-kilovolt transmission line, Grant PUD staff and engineering consultants have narrowed the field of construction options to three potential alternatives.

The public will have a chance to view detailed maps of the options and offer comment at workshops early next year.

Grant PUD project manager David Klinkenberg outlined the possible construction routes, project timelines and process with commissioners.

The new 115 kV transmission line is part of Grant PUD's second round of "Design-Build," a multi-year package of projects to improve resiliency and increase capacity of Grant PUD's electrical system.

Klinkenberg said 14 different criteria factors were considered during the review of possible route options. The different criteria were weighted looking to strike a balance in potential construction costs and impacts to landowners and residents in the area.

The purpose of the Red Rock Transmission Line is to meet growing power demands in the Royal Slope area by feeding the Red Rock Substation south of Royal City. The top three route alternatives involve the transmission line originating at the Frenchman Hills Substation and traveling to the Red Rock Substation. Each possible route taking a different path.

A map view of the three potential routes is available on page 97 of presentation materials and are described below:

Western Route – 7.6 miles

The Western Route follows the existing Frenchman Hills to Royal City transmission line east for approximately 1.4 miles before turning south near the existing communication tower.The route runs south, roughly along Road F SW, for approximately 3.5 miles to Road 12 SW.The route follows Road 12 SW approximately 0.65 miles east, turning southeast along Road E SW.The route continues south along Road E SW, crossing State Highway 26, to the new Red Rock Substation.

Central Route – 7.6 miles

The Central Route follows the existing Frenchman Hills to Royal City transmission line east for approximately 2.2 miles before turning southeast near Road E SW.The route continues south along Road E SW, crossing State Highway 26, to the new Red Rock Substation.

Eastern Route – 9.5 miles

The Eastern Route follows the existing Frenchman Hills to Royal City Transmission line from Frenchman Hills to Royal City.This route runs east for approximately 2.2 miles, turning south east for approximately 1.4 miles, where it turns south along Road D SW, for 2.5 miles, to the Royal City Substation.From here the route follows Road D SW south, across State Highway 26, turning west along Road 13.6 SW, to the new Red Rock Substation.

Two public meetings seeking public input and comment regarding the route alternatives will be held at the Port of Royal Slope. The exact date and times are yet to be finalized but expected to occur in late January or February.

Klinkenberg said following consideration of public comment and analysis of the other criteria, staff will make a recommendation to the commission for commissioner approval. Staff tentatively plan providing their recommendation in April and estimate project completion by March of 2022.

See additional details on page 93-101 of presentation materials and hear the discussion which begins at 04:02:30 of the commission audio.

Electric vehicle fast charger on its way to Grant County

Two new public use electric vehicle (EV) charging stations are coming to Moses Lake. Grant PUD commissioners unanimously approved an agreement outlining a partnership between the utility and Richland based, Energy Northwest.

The agreement paves the way for Grant County's first publicly available non-company-specific level 3 fast-charging station along with a level 2 charging station to be installed on Grant PUD property.

The charging stations will be available to the public in early 2020. The stations will be in the parking lot on the southwest side of Grant PUD's local Moses Lake office.

Chief Customer Officer, Dave Churchman told commissioners that as part of the agreement, Grant PUD had already provided the electrical infrastructure necessary for the charging stations to be installed and Energy Northwest is supplying and will oversee the installation of both public charging stations.

Energy Northwest, the third-largest provider of electricity in Washington, recently received grant funding from the Washington State Department of Transportation. The purpose of the funding is to see the installation of electric vehicle charging stations throughout Eastern Washington, including the I-90 corridor.

The agreement calls for Grant PUD to receive 5% of the net revenues from the public stations.

This effort is part of Energy Northwest's Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Transportation Alliance. The alliance has seen the agency partner with other utilities throughout the region on similar projects, each designed to enhance interstate and intrastate electric vehicle travel.

Grant PUD is also installing two additional level 2 charging stations at its Moses Lake office. These two stations will be designated for two Chevrolet Bolt EV's that will be joining Grant PUD's fleet in the upcoming weeks.

A level 3 fast charger can fully charge an electrical vehicle in as little as 30 minutes. A level 2 charger will generally take 2-to-4 hours for a full charge. Both public charging stations will be metered, requiring users to pay a fee for using them. That fee amount is still being finalized.

See additional details on page 140-150 of the commission packet and hear the discussion which begins at 02:31:40 of the commission audio.

Commissioners also:

— Learned that Grant PUD staff have completed more than 5,700 current transformer (CT) audits. This effort marks the near completion of the full site analysis of all the utility's single and three phase transformer rated meters.

The project ran in conjunction with the installation of the new advanced meters. Its purpose was to identify meters that were providing inaccurate meter readings. It also allowed for the verification of horsepower ratings and requirements for irrigation customers.

Historically Grant PUD regularly performed irrigation load checks and CT site audits to ensure the accuracy of the meters. In the late 1990s alternative ways of verifying metering and horsepower were utilized and staff focus shifted to other work deemed to be higher priority.

Jacob Johnson, Grant PUD Electric Shop supervisor, told commissioners that it is estimated that since that time more than $1.6 million revenue has been lost due to incorrect metering. Adjustments have since been made to correct the inaccurate readings and customers who have overpaid were issued credits.

Customers who have underpaid will not be billed for the accumulated past deficit, Johnson said. But their meters have been adjusted and they'll be billed for their correct energy use going forward.

The results of the project include more accurate readings. This accuracy is estimated to result in more than $226,000 in additional energy sales in 2020.CT audits will now be completed on a six-year basis.

See the presentation on pages 82-92 of presentation materials and hear the discussion which begins at 03:39:25 of the commission audio.

— Heard from Grant PUD Fish and Wildlife Manager Tom Dresser that the department is on track to end the year at 97.2 percent of its total $15.3 million budget for 2019. Priority goals for the $15.67 million 2020 budget include:

  • Continue improvements to employee safety
  • Dig an additional well to supply Grant PUD's Carlton fish-acclimation facility. The second well is needed, because the Methow River, the facility's water source, is migrating away from the facility's intake.
  • Rehabilitate two of the wells that supply the Priest Rapids Hatchery. The wells aren't usable during lower water levels in the Columbia River.
  • Coordinate with upriver dams operators to develop a plan to ensure sufficient Columbia River flows for fall chinook that spawn in the Hanford Reach.
  • Respond to facility disruptions within 24 hours for issues affecting fish health and within one week for non-emergency issues.
  • Conduct the required 10-year review of hatchery operations.
  • Continue to explore potential cost-effective and biologically sound approaches to achieve "no net impact" for summer subyearling Chinook.

See Dresser's full presentation here, pages 10-31. Listen to the discussion at 01:22:15 on the commission audio.

— Heard that Grant PUD Cultural Resources expects to end 2019 approximately 10.5 percent below its $2.9 million budget. Goals for 2020 include:

  • Continued efforts to mitigate impacts from Priest Rapids and Wanapum dams on culturally sensitive areas, focusing on alternatives to excavation.
  • Continue efforts to reduce dust, noise and other effects on Wanapum Village of the second embankment construction project, slated to begin in 2020 on the Yakima County side of of Priest Rapids Dam.
  • Inspect project areas affected by last summer's 243 Fire for impacts to culturally sensitive areas.
  • Continue discussions with tribal groups, state and federal agencies about dam-related adverse effects to cultural resources.

See the full presentation here, pages 32-39. Hear the discussion at 01:48:15 on the commission audio.

— Learned that through September, Grant PUD is hitting or approaching most of its performance targets. Last summer's 243 Fire, in the Grant County hills between Wanapum and Priest Rapids dams, and setbacks with the rebuild of a turbine/generator unit at Priest Rapids Dam drove unit caused unit availability to fall just short of target, and total power-outage time to 182 minutes, far above the target of less than 110 minutes.

View the full presentation here, pages 75-81. Hear the discussion at 03:27:15 on the commission audio.

— Heard from Grant PUD's new Corrective Action Program Manager Robert Lougee about a "Corrective Action Program" that will combine a set of policies, protocols and procedures to provide Grant PUD with a methodical and consistent approach to identify, analyze and resolve problems, no matter where in the District they occur.

Lougee comes to Grant PUD from the nuclear energy industry, where he says strong programs for identifying and solving problems have long been in place.

The new program will include a system to track corrective action, cause evaluation training and create tools to identify performance trends. It will help us prevent injury to employees and contractors, damage to equipment, impacts to the environment and recurrence of problems.

See the full presentation here, pages 102-106. Hear the discussion at 01:58:08 on the commission audio.

Commissioners unanimously approved the following action items:

— An increase a contract with TMG, the company overseeing the modernization of Grant PUD's customer service billing and meter-reading system, by $790,180, from the original $500,000 to a revised contract price to $1.29 million. The request shifts some responsibilities from Grant PUD staff and contractor Oracle to TMG for more efficient project management. The shift is expected to reduce the overall cost of the project from $10 million to approximately $5.2 million, with a project completion date by September 2020 — approximately a year ahead of the original projection. This item was originally slated for a commission vote Jan. 14, but commissioners unanimously agreed to vote to the current commission meeting, Dec. 10.

See the full presentation here, pages 1-8. Hear the discussion at 01:01:30 on the commission audio.

— A resolution that requires contractors to be pre-qualified for electrical work for Grant PUD. The pre-qualification is required by RCW 54.04.085. Grant PUD published a legal notice in Grant County newspapers in August advising contractors of the pre-approval process. Read more about this resolution in the commission packet, pages 13-21.

— A new 3-year collective-bargaining agreement between Grant PUD and Local Union 77 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW). The Jan. 1, 2020 through March 31, 2023 includes letters of agreement to create a Personal Protective Equipment and Productivity committees. A wage adjust for linemen, electricians and other apprenticeable positions will align Grant PUD wages for these positions to market wages. The first adjustment of 4% will happen Jan. 1, with two additional wage increases of 2.5% on April 1, 2021 and April 1, 2022. The agreement also provides for a general wage increase of 2.25% at the beginning of each contract year (April 1). Read more on the new agreement in the commission packet, pages 21-27.

— Grant PUD's 2020-2029, 10-year plan for energy conservation with biennial conservation target every two years. This is a requirement of the Energy Independence Act, approved by voters as I-937. The plan proposes to conserve 218,562 megawatt hours of energy over the 10-year period, with biennial conservation targets of 35,828 megawatt hours. Read more about the plan in the commission packet, pages 28-33.

— Accepted a $4.2 million bid by Wesco Distribution, Inc. for supplying 15 kilovolt medium-voltage underground cable. Wesco's was the lowest of two bids received. It was within 15% of Grant PUD's engineers' estimate. Read more about the bid in the commission packet, pages 34-37.

— Issuance of one or more series of revenue bonds in amounts not to exceed $200 million on the Grant PUD electric system and $450 million on the Priest Rapids Hydroelectric project (both Priest Rapids and Wanapum dams) to defease and refund certain outstanding bonds. The approval allows Grant PUD to take advantage of low market interest rates to refinance or pay down some of its $1.3 billion in outstanding debt toward reducing the ratio of total debt to the book value of plant assets. Read more about this plan in the commission packet, pages 39-138.

— Authorized the General Manager/CEO on behalf of Grant PUD to execute change order to contract 130-0876 with North Sky Communications, LLC to increase the contract by $10.5 million to expand the fiber-optic network to six currently unserved areas of Grant County in 2020. The change brings the total contract to $20.5 million. Read more in the commission packet, pages 152-159. For more info on areas to be connected in 2020, visit grantpud.org/getfiber.

— Authorized the General Manager/CEO on behalf of Grant PUD to continue with his discretion to approve increases as need to a contract with Van Ness Feldman for legal services related to litigation of the new Rate 17 for evolving industries, which include cryptocurrency firms. Van Ness Feldman has helped Grant PUD successfully thwart plaintiffs' attempt to block Rate 17. Grant PUD has paid the firm $833,333 to date and anticipates reaching $1 million by the end of 2019.

— Authorized General Manager/CEO on behalf of Grant PUD to execute contract 130-09724 with HDR Constructors, Inc in an amount not to exceed $2.03 million for Phase 1 of "Design Build 2" — a package of upgrades to improve electric-system reliability and prepare for future growth.

— Named the following slate of officers on the Grant PUD Commission for 2020: President, Commission Tom Flint; Vice-President, Commissioner Larry Schaapman; Secretary, Commissioner Judy Wilson. Commissioner Flint thanked outgoing President Dale Walker for his leadership. First -term Commissioner Judy Wilson thanked commissioners Flint, Schaapman and Walker for "accepting us new commissioners so willingly." Fellow first-termer Nelson Cox earlier in the meeting thanked fellow commissioners and everyone on Grant PUD staff for their openness in answering questions and acknowledged the steep learning curve this past first year.