Commission recap 3-23-2021 (Tue): Grant PUD helps customers impacted by COVID-19

With the passing of the one-year mark since the start of the pandemic, Grant PUD is getting a clearer view of the impact COVID-19 has had on its customers' ability to stay current on their Grant PUD bill.

Senior Manager of Customer Solutions, Terry McKenzie said that based on the past due amounts it appears, residential customers have felt the impacts of the pandemic the most amongst all of Grant PUD's customer groups.

McKenzie reported that as of the end of February 1,072 residential customers were more than 90-days past due on their electric bill. This is compared to just 39 residential customers in a similar position in January 2020 before the pandemic was declared. During this timeframe, the amount of outstanding payments over 90-days also increased from $1,012 to $286,395.

Chief Customer Officer, Dave Churchman said when compared to the company's total receivables and overall customer count, the percentage of customers past due is small enough that the utility is optimistic they will be able to work with those impacted to get any past due payments resolved.

Customer Service Supervisor, Taffy Courteau urged any customer that finds themselves struggling to pay their Grant PUD bill to call customer service so a representative can help by setting up flexible payment plans or assisting customers in applying for payment assistance.

Since last March, Grant PUD has halted disconnects and paused any late payment charges for its core customers due to the pandemic. This decision was made by Grant PUD even before the Governor's proclamation prohibited those actions for residential customers. Last week, Governor Inslee announced the extension of his proclamation through at least July 31.

Courteau said because the current proclamation does not relieve a customer from their eventual obligation to pay their utility bill, the group is proactively reaching out to customers that are behind and helping them develop a plan that will allow them to work towards making their account current. 

Grant PUD can help those impacted by the pandemic access energy assistance programs offered by outside agencies, as well as the utility's Share the Warmth Program. In 2020 nearly 1,200 families received support with their electric bills.

See the presentation on pages 121-141 of staff presentation materials and hear the full discussion on beginning at 5:10:20 of the commission audio.

Commissioners also:

-- Heard from Security Manager Fallon Long about an assessment underway to identify and propose mitigation to security-related risk to Grant PUD buildings, yards, buildings and structures. Contractor Gannett Fleming has worked with staff to tour recreation areas and facilities to identify risks, including camera locations, security lighting, intrusion detection, entrance points, door hardware, visitor tracking, perimeter controls and security policies. The contractor and staff are reviewing the data collected and expects to have a final report for commissioners by late June. The assessment comes as the utility is nearing the end of sweeping upgrades to access points and surveillance equipment.

Vandalism, such as graffiti and damage to restrooms at Grant PUD recreation areas, is on the rise, with 13 incidents reported to date, up from 8 incidents all last year. The utility has added an extra river patrol to improve surveillance of recreation and other areas. Long attributed the extra patrol for detecting more incidents of suspicious activity—21 incidents, year to date, up from eight incidents in 2020.

(Listen to the discussion at 2:24:27 on the commission audio. See the report on pages 39-58 of the presentation materials

-- Heard from Senior Manager of Leadership and Organization Development Tom Stredwick about Grant PUD's efforts to reinforce a people-centric culture at Grant PUD by providing training from within and funds for further education to help employees achieve their professional goals. The utility has budgeted $275,000 in educational reimbursements for employees, part of a more than $2 million annual budget to gauge and improve employee satisfaction and create standards for how Grant PUD leads, trains and treats its people.

Commissioners Tom Flint, Nelson Cox, Dale Walker and Judy Wilson expressed support for the effort.

"This organization has gone all-in and know what it looks like to pursue something with excellence," Commissioner Flint said.

General Manager & CEO Kevin Nordt agree, "If you have good people in the system, you just can't be stopped," he said.

(Listen to the discussion at 3:32:40 on the commission audio. See the report on pages 59-79 of the presentation materials)

-- Heard about recent Industry Outreach Activities of the utility as well as upcoming efforts the department plans to undertake. During the presentation the group highlighted their efforts to raise awareness of the work the utility is involved with in helping salmon populations thrive in the Columbia River.

Senior Manager of External Affairs, Andrew Munro and Public Affairs Supervisor, Chuck Allen shared recent videos the group developed showcasing these efforts. Materials and additional information is available https://www.grantpud.org/salmon

Commissioner Tom Flint said he feels it is important for Grant PUD to let its customers and the public know the role the organization plays as stewards of the river.

See the presentation on pages 80-101 of staff presentation materials and hear the full discussion on beginning at 4:16:20 of the commission audio.

-- Heard from Senior Manager of Operational Excellence Daniel Blazquez about a new "Operational Excellence" group at Grant PUD that combines corrective action – analysis of problems to find preventative solutions, as well as continuous and human-performance improvement. The new group's goal will foster safe, reliable and error-free operations in a sustainable way.

(Listen to the discussion at 4:49:55 on the commission audio. See the report on pages 103-121 of the presentation materials)

On Tuesday Commissioners:

-Unanimously approved a change order to an existing contract with Cornforth Consultants to continue ongoing dam safety support for the Priest Rapids Project in the not to exceed amount of $1.8 million. Cornforth was awarded the contract in December 2017 to provide the utility with safety engineering professional services. The contract extends through 2022.

See pages 9-13 of the commission packet

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