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Commission recap 6/25/2019, Grant PUD's conservation rebate paid forward by Microsoft

Data center operator provides $480,000 to benefit Grant County residents

Grant PUD's board of commissioners recognized Microsoft officials today after the technology leader agreed to contribute a $480,000 energy conservation rebate the company is forgoing into initiatives to benefit Grant County residents as part of the utility's Pay-it-Forward Partnership. Microsoft Corp. operates a datacenter in Grant County and is a customer of Grant PUD. (Hear the presentation which begins on 2:53:45 of the commission audio)

"I would like to recognize Microsoft for having the generosity of seeing needs that can be met through using their conservation credit for the betterment of the county," Grant PUD commissioner Thomas Flint stated about the partnership.

Fellow PUD commissioner Nelson Cox echoed his appreciation.

"It's great to see that it's countywide support," Cox stated. "That's a big kudos."

Grant PUD will make a $470,000 contribution to the Columbia Basin Foundation on behalf of Microsoft. Microsoft will then work with the foundation to have $400,000 of its total rebate go toward completion of Big Bend Community College's Workforce Education Center. North Central Washington, including Grant County, is one of six regions chosen for Microsoft's TechSpark initiative to foster economic opportunity and investment.

"Sustainability is a core value for Microsoft, and that drives efforts to make our operations more energy efficient and environmentally friendly," said Mike Egan, senior director of Microsoft's TechSpark program. "Our focus on sustainability can also be found in our work to help make communities more sustainable, and this contribution to Grant PUD's Pay-it-Forward Partnership supports that goal. As part of our TechSpark initiative, Microsoft is working to foster new economic opportunities in North Central Washington. We see Big Bend Community College's new Workforce Education Center as an investment in the future of the region where people can get the education and skills that are in high demand by employers."

Another $50,000 of the rebate will help the foundation direct locally-grown produce to healthy-eating programs for families in Grant County, and $20,000 will help school districts participate in an environmental-education program at Grant PUD's Visitor Center at Wanapum Dam. The remaining $10,000 will go directly into Grant PUD's Share the Warmth fund, which helps families in need pay their power bills.

Microsoft entered into a partnership with Grant PUD to make significant energy-efficient upgrades to equipment at its datacenter operations in Quincy and have them audited by a third-party verifier. This helped Grant PUD fulfill the requirements of Washington's Energy Independence Act (I-937) by achieving cost-effective conservation requirements required by the act. As part of this law, qualifying utilities must report their energy conservation achievements to the State of Washington every two years. Grant PUD has established a conservation goal for the 2018-2019 biennium of 32,149 megawatt-hours.

"Microsoft's participation in this program contributed to a significant savings in energy and also dollars for Grant PUD's customers," said Terry McKenzie, senior manager of Customer Solutions. "We were able to meet our biennium target at the lowest cost since the start of the program in 2010. Our Energy Services Department has worked hard on pursuing these projects in the county so we can meet our target at the least cost. It was a win-win for Microsoft and Grant PUD's other 40,000 customers."

From left: Terry Leas and Leanne Parton, Big Bend Community College; Nelson Cox, Grant PUD commissioner; Gigi Lowry, Microsoft; Tom Flint and Larry Schaapman, Grant PUD commissioners; Patrick Medaglia and Lisa Karstetter, Microsoft; Tom Moncrief, Columbia Basin Foundation; Dale Walker, Grant PUD commission president; Judy Wilson, Grant PUD commissioner; Leslie Taylor and Corrine Isaak, Columbia Basin Foundation.

Commissioners also:

-Unanimously approved a contract with Florida-based Ultimate Software for a new Human Capital Management System that manages all phases of the employment lifecycle for Grant PUD staff, including job posting/recruiting, selection and on-boarding, benefits management, electronic time-keeping, payroll, performance management, retirement and termination. Grant currently uses a collection of non-integrated and outdated software to perform these tasks.

The new, cloud-based system will improve the efficiency, speed and capability of Human Resource and other staff, by providing better data access and records management, reducing compliance risk and ongoing labor hours. The $1.45 million contract includes system implementation and a 5-year cloud subscription. (3:08:42 on the commission audio. Pages 26-68 in commission packet.)

Unanimously approved a one-year, $216,838 increase to an ongoing contract with the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife for additional work to raise and release Spring Chinook into Nason Creek (near Lake Wenatchee) as a federal requirement to mitigate for any fish lost to dam operations. Nason Creek Spring Chinook is a listed species under the federal Endangered Species Act. (Listen to a short discussion at 3:06:35 on the commission audio. The change increases the not-to-exceed contract amount to $1.16 million. (Learn more on pages 10-23 in the commission packet.)

Heard from the President of Big Bend Community College, Terry Leas as a follow-up to a presentation he gave to the commission during the June 11 meeting. Big Bend is in the process of constructing a new workforce education building and approached the commission during their last meeting to request a contribution to help fund costs for the building.

Big Bend requested an annual donation of $200,000 per year for five years.

Leas was asked to review the benefits Grant PUD would receive for any funding the utility may provide.

Leas said if Grant PUD were to provide a donation they would be participating in helping train a locally skilled workforce that could help meet the needs of the utility as well as other industries throughout the county that the PUD serves.

Commissioners took no action regarding the request. (Hear discussion beginning at 03:21:10 of the commission audio)

Learned of improvements to Grant PUD's Vivid Learning on-line training system, which tracks and reminds Grant PUD employees of needed training in a range of areas, including safety. The new system is more agile, yet costs $50,000/year, compared to the former, $150,000/year training system. (Discussion begins 1:40:45 on the commission audio. Page 18-25 of the presentation materials.)

Learned of efforts by Grant PUD's security team on a variety of projects including:

  • A $2.2 million effort to upgrade access controls (including door locks) and increase surveillance video throughout Grant PUD. Work is expected to be complete by mid-2020.
  • Improvements in conjunction with the Bonneville Power Administration to improve security and surveillance at the Wanapum Switchyard/Substation, which both Grant PUD and Bonneville share. The project budget is $650,000. Work should be complete by year end.
  • Continued risk assessment throughout Grant PUD to review security policies, understand threats, estimate impacts, determine likelihoods and develop implementation plans. Part of the process includes security staff's seeking feedback from employees.
  • The first of a four-phase plan to improve emergency preparedness. Personnel and training have already been identified toward creating a new emergency action plan for more effective incident management. (1:58:40 on commission audio. Pages 27-45 of the presentation materials.)

Received an update on changes to Grant PUD's financial management system to collect more detailed information about how Grant PUD spends its money. The change increases the cost categories — descriptors of each expanse — from four to 74, and requires all employees, including upper management, to file bimonthly time sheets to track the time they spend on specific projects.

"Ultimately, we're trying to get better data into users' hands for quality decision making," Grant PUD Controller Mike Facey told commissioners.

"I'm excited to hear we're going down this path," Commissioner Tom Flint said. "This will be a big step in making us more accountable to our ratepayers." (Discussion begins on 2:18:25 on the commission audio. Pages 36-43 of the presentations materials.)

Next commission meeting: July 9, Ephrata Headquarters