Commission Recap 9-8-2020: Thanks for hard work restoring power through Labor Day wind, fire

Commissioners, staff and customers Tuesday thanked Grant PUD linemen and everyone who supports them for responding to many scattered outages during the Labor Day windstorm and afternoon brushfire in the Beverly Burke area.

"It was a really collaborative effort yesterday under some extremely challenging conditions," Chief Operations Officer Rich Wallen told commissioners. "My appreciation to all teams involved."

"I want to echo the appreciation to everyone for getting the power back on yesterday," Commission President Tom Flint said.

Commissioners Dale Walker, Judy Wilson and Nelson Cox agreed. "It's sure nice when you've got good people working for you," Commissioner Walker said. "We've definitely got a team that's been instrumental with this PUD in keeping the lights on" (Discussion begins 15:40 on the commission audio).

The National Weather Service in Spokane clocked winds in the Beverly area at 21 mph with gusts of 44 mph. The fire began Monday afternoon near Beverly and burned about 2,000 acres, prompting some low-level evacuation notices and causing dense smoke and difficult breathing conditions.

Commissioners also:

Heard from that Grant PUD will continue to contract with the state Department of Fish and Wildlife to manage and operate the utility's Priest Rapids Hatchery. The decision follows months of analysis to determine the costs and risks of choosing another hatchery operator or running the hatchery with Grant PUD's own personnel. The state agency has operated the hatchery since 1963.

"One of the deciding factors for me was how cost-effective we have been at Priest Rapids Hatchery," Manager of Fish and Wildlife Tom Dresser told commissioners, pointing to the direct purchase of supplies as a way to eliminate indirect costs had the state agency done the buying.

General Manager Kevin Nordt agreed, saying that cost-effective operations, together with the risk of changing operators made this "clearly the right path forward."

The Fish and Wildlife team is currently working a series of comprehensive hatchery monitoring and evaluation reports required every 10 years. The analysis will help determine the effectiveness of Grant PUD's hatchery programs. The report should be completed by early 2021.

The department's $16.1 million 2020 budget is nearly 40% spent through June. Many operations and maintenance costs are associated with hatchery-related projects in the fall, Dresser said. (Discussion begins at 50:10 on the commission audio; pages 1-21 in the presentation materials).

— Heard that the Cultural Resources Department has been busy this past quarter supporting the Priest Rapids Right Embankment Project as an intermediary between Grant PUD and the Wanapum, according to a presentation from Cultural Resources Manager Brett Lenz. The Wanapum have their village at Priest Rapids next to the embankment reinforcement project.

Some of highlights include:

  • Adding three safety monitors in order to help reduce the impacts of the project.
  • Completing a Social Impact Assessment of the project on the Wanapum to address issues that may arise, including dust abatement and reducing the impacts of sound.

Overall, the department's budget is about 25 percent below projections with actuals at $1.7 million and budget is $2.3 million. Lenz attributed that primarily to COVID-19 impacts on outreach efforts.

(Discussion begins at 2:20:00 on the commission audio; pages 40-48 in presentation materials).

— Learned that Grant PUD appears well-positioned to meet or out-perform most of its key financial metrics this year. The profitability metrics of "consolidated return on net assets" and "retail operating ratio" continue to be a challenge. John Mertlich, senior manager of Financial Planning and Analysis, said increased operation costs and some degree of reduced retail demand for electricity are both at least partial consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic. The precise impact of the pandemic on revenues is hard to separate from the impacts of the overall economic downturn, Mertlich told commissioners.

(1:36:50 on the commission audio; pages 22-39 in the presentation materials).

— Heard Commissioners heard about two upcoming contract change order requests. Project Manager, David Klinkenberg provided details of a planned contract change order for Design Build 2.Design Build 2 includes 11 projects, which consist of several new facilities and upgrades that will increase load capacity for new customers and improve the resiliency of Grant PUD's electric system to power outages.

Klinkenberg said existing contracts have funded project planning, initial design work, schedule development, procurement of select items with longer lead times and other tasks during Phase 1. The proposed $51.9 million change order to the contract will fund Phase 2 which consists of design completion and construction efforts for the first nine projects.

Senior Manager of the Project Management Office, Julie Pyper also discussed the proposed change order request with Volt Workforce Solutions. Volt provides Grant PUD with contracted labor resources for select projects and business activities. The change order would extend the contract until the end of 2022 and increase the overall contract amount by $1.5 million.

The proposed change orders for both contracts will be up for approval during the next Commission Meeting.

Full details are available on pages 13-103 of the commission packet and hear the discussion at starting at 29:30 of the commission audio.

Action items:

— Commissioners unanimously authorized activities associated with the annual Employee Appreciation Day, this year on Sept. 24. The day will begin with a virtual event in the morning to recognize employees' good work, following by the rest of the day off to take advantage of free golf and other activities on Crescent Bar Island.

"We'd like to express our extreme appreciation for all our employees and everything they've been doing through the COVID-19 epidemic, working from home – kind of outside the box – and being safe," Commission President Tom Flint said after the vote.