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Commission recap 8/25/2020

Second-quarter updata shows finances continue strong

The latest 5-year financial forecast shows Grant PUD meeting most of its financial targets through 2025 with virtually no annual electric rate increases to customers, commissioners learned Tuesday.

But conditions could change amid revenue uncertainty on the wholesale energy market and spending needs in the coming years as the economy continues to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.
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"We've seen some pressure, but against the targets, we're still strong."
— General Manager Kevin Nordt
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Targets for liquid cash on hand, debt, and cash available to cover debt service are all forecast to exceed their targets through 2025, based on the latest data through June, John Mertlich, Senior Manager of Financial Planning and Analysis said during his second-quarter financial report to the commission.

Two indicators of profitability have slumped. Return on net assets is now forecast to remain below its 4% target through 2025. The 2020 Budget showed it hitting the goal from 2022 through 2024. The retail operating ratio has also been revised to below targets through 2025.

Total expenditures are now forecast at $360.3 million, down from the originally budgeted $370.9 million, pushed by more than $11 million in savings on annual debt-service.

A debt pay-down in January, followed by transactions to refinance debt to take advantage of COVID-influenced, record-low interest rates brought about the savings.

The financial forecast shared with commissioners Tuesday reflected updates to retail energy sales, wholesale forecast, operating expenses, sale to power purchasers, and interest income/expense.

Strong market prices locked in last year with Grant's contracted power purchasers and shorter-term power purchasers still shows expected total net wholesale revenues of $66.9 million, above the original budget of $55.7 million.

Hear the second-quarter financial report at 1:00:23 on the commission audio. See the reports on pages 15-39 of the presentation materials.

Grant PUD approves new wholesale slice contract

Commissioners unanimously approved a 5-year contract agreement with Morgan Stanley Capital Group that will reduce risk for Grant PUD by forward-selling 33.31% of the energy generated by Priest Rapids and Wanapum dams.

The agreement replaces similar contract with Shell Energy and will go into effect Sept. 30. Morgan Stanley Capital Group will pay Grant PUD a premium price for 33.31% of the dams' output, while also agreeing to supply a fixed amount of firm energy back to Grant PUD to help cover its local energy load.

Slice sale contacts have proven to be a successful strategy for Grant PUD to reduce its risk and provide certainty in revenues for the utility as it eliminates the impacts of a potential bad water year while also maximizing the value of overall Grant PUD's hydro system. The contract was awarded following a proposal and bidding process conducted by the utility.

See all the contract details on pages 126 to 233 of the commission packet. See July 14, 2020 presentation to the commission on pages 56-75 here.

Commissioners also:

— Heard from a Mattawa-area orchardist that her family will not recover the investments it's made in a 20-acre organic apple orchard planted on leased Grant PUD Columbia River shoreline land if the utility continues its plan to withdraw the lease. Commission President Tom Flint said commissioners would discuss the matter with staff and get back to the orchardist. Commissioner Nelson Cox expressed support for the orchardist. (2:34:55 on the commission audio).

— Heard from a Sunland Estates resident who inquired about what the community had to do to qualify for a permit to restore lost lawns and amenities along Grant PUD's Columbia River shoreline that runs past their properties. Grant PUD removed the lawns and restored the shoreline to a more natural state, in accordance with its federally approved Shoreline Master Plan, after the community declined to work together to obtain a permit. The Sunland resident said opinions about the permit have since changed. Commissioner Larry Schaapman said commissioners would consult with staff and get back to the resident. (2:50:18 on the commission recording).

— Heard from Julie Pyper, Senior Manager of the Project Management Office, as she shared the department's mid-year update. Currently, the group is collectively overseeing 29 active projects across the utility.

Pyper highlighted her team's efforts as they work to support successful projects throughout the organization by providing a systematic approach to how key projects are managed. The department is on pace to spend approximately $72 million of its $88 million approved capital project budget in 2020.

Pyper attributed the difference in the current end-of-year spending projection to the yearly budgeted amount on a combination of delays experienced by some projects as well as spending coming in under budget on others.

See Pyper's full report on pages 41 to 66 of the commission presentation materials and hear the discussion beginning at 1:36:30 of the commission audio.

— Heard from Leadership and Organizational Development's Tom Stredwick and Scott Sundberg as they discussed their group's proposed approach to revamp the utility's existing educational reimbursement program.

Still in draft form, the update to the program would provide a three-tiered approach as employees seek educational degrees and/or education tied to professional growth. The proposed program would provide various levels of reimbursement for costs associated with approved employee development efforts that would directly benefit the utility, its customers, and its employees.

Details of the program continue to be finalized. Hear the full discussion at 1:27:45 of the commission audio.

Action items:

— Commissioners Unanimously adopted and approved the 2020 Integrated Resource Plan. The plan provides Grant PUD with a roadmap for how it will provide reliable and low-cost electrical service to its customers over the next 10-years by examining substantial risks and uncertainties inherent to an electric utility.

A public hearing was held in July regarding the plan as staff shared challenges they've identified for Grant PUD which include load growth, regulations, environmental legislation, the changing power market and availability of hydropower, solar, wind, and other energy resources needed to meet the county's demand.

According to the plan, Grant PUD will be able to meet the county's energy needs with the physical power and financial benefit of Priest Rapids and Wanapum dams until 2028, when it will need to find additional sources of energy to meet load. See the full plan and supporting materials on pages 9 to 125 of the commission packet.

— Commissioners unanimously approved a contract for nearly $3 million for new multiservice gateways used to connect homes and business to Grant PUD's high-speed fiber network. Under the contract Grant PUD will purchase approximately 400 gateways that will be used for new installations and replacement of any failed equipment currently installed.

The contract with Graybar Electric runs through 2022 and will ensure the warehouse will have enough gateways in stock to meet demand. Originally scheduled as a review item for the next business meeting, the resolution was moved for approval during Tuesday's meeting to help ensure the utility would not be in danger of running out of gateway inventory. Previous reports to the commission, highlighted the record number of customers signing-up for fiber internet service in 2020. See full details on pages 239 to 275 of the commission packet.

— Commissioners unanimously approved filing of the proposed budget and set the dates for the 2021 public budget hearings. The public hearings will take place on October 13 and 15. Due to the current uncertainty of the ability to meet in person due to COVID-19, specific details on the location of the hearings and how to participate will be available on grantpud.org/commission-meetings as the meeting dates get closer. See full details on pages 234 to 238 of the commission packet.

How to participate in virtual commission meetings Grant PUD commissioners and staff are meeting "virtually" – using Teams meeting videoconferencing software — until Grant PUD managers, in cooperation with the state and local healthcare officials determine risk has subsided from the COVID-19 pandemic. Grant PUD commissioners and staff continue to meet on schedule, the second and fourth Tuesday of each month. This information is posted and updated weekly at grantpud.org/commission-meetings