Commission recap: 'Takin' care of business in 2024. And more...

The band Bachman Turner Overdrive lit up the Roseland Ballroom stage in New York City a decade ago with a rockin’ performance of their classic anthem “Takin’ Care of Business” to a euphoric live audience. The band’s guest keyboardist — Paul Shaffer, of David Letterman Show fame — supercharged the song’s finale by tipping his electronic organ on its end, spinning it around so the keys faced the audience and playing it vertically. And that is exactly the YouTube video that Grant PUD Commission President Tom Flint chose to “set the tone” for 2024 at the year’s first commission meeting, Tuesday.

“After years of COVID, Grant PUD is back taking care of business. That’s my motivation to start the year,” said Flint, who is now into his 20th year as a Grant PUD commissioner and a time or three (at least) as commission president. During the business meeting, after lunch, Flint listed the following goals and objectives for 2024:  

  • Be good stewards of our resources. Our employees are our most valuable resource.
  • Continue and enhance our safety culture.
  • Improve our financial ratings and cost effectiveness.
  • Reduce our operating risk.
  • Preserve, protect and perpetuate the history of the Wanapum People and include the history of Grant PUD and the farmers, ranchers and rural residents who made it happen.
  • Further development and expansion should not be at the expense of our core power users.
  • Work to modify the utility’s current cost-of-service-based rate-setting policy, while following existing policy to avoid rate shock, make any rate increases small and predictable, and try to minimize any unintended consequences of rate changes.
  • Pursue other generating resources that are available around the clock, year-round, and are economically feasible, including small nuclear reactors paid for with longterm power contracts – much the way the construction of Priest Rapids and Wanapum dams were financed.
  • Support employment in Grant County and growing our own employees.
  • Completing the fiber buildout before the end of the year, as promised.

Hear Commissioner Flint announcing his objectives for 2024 at 2:45:18 on the commission audio.

Fiber staffers propose technology transition to a more cost effective and scalable network service

Grant PUD staff recommend transitioning the current “Active-E” ethernet technology for to-the-home fiber-optic service with industry standard “passive optical network” or PON technology for a more cost effective and scalable service with greater longevity.

IT Manager David Parkhurst told commissioners the PON technology would use a lot of the same infrastructure as the existing network, but would mean lower maintenance and operation costs, faster upload and download speeds, better cyber security, and longer lifespan, since PON technology is now the industry standard and focus of research and development.

A small pilot program launched in August placed PON-based network-access boxes at 20 Grant PUD customer locations. Parkhurst said all customers have been satisfied with the service.

Across the Grant PUD fiber network, customers’ need for more network capacity for streaming, internet access and communications doubles every two-to-three years, Parkhurst said. Grant PUD’s existing Active-E technology has not been upgraded to handle those speeds. Private-sector competitors in other areas are already offering faster speeds, he said.

Fiber officials expect to complete the buildout of the Grant PUD fiber network by November 2024. They’ve already begun upgrading the core   network components that would also work with the PON technology and focusing on an aggressive, ongoing plan for network maintenance and improvements for more reliability and resiliency.

Currently, 73% of customers who have access to Grant PUD fiber, actually take the service. The goal for 2024 is to up that number to 80%.

They haven’t yet determined the cost to upgrade to PON technology for all 30,000 users, Parkhurst said.

Pointing to the upgrade’s advantages laid out by staff, Commissioner Larry Schaapman encouraged Parkhurst to get them a cost “sooner, rather than later.”

See the full PON presentation on pages 21-46 of the presentation materials. Here the discussion at 1:09:08 on the commission audio. See the Telecom & Fiber Services update on pages 1-20 of the presentation materials. Hear the discussion at 33:59 on the commission audio.

Visitors give PUD’s recreation sites high marks

Visitors to Grant PUD’s recreation sites along the Columbia River said they most enjoy the quality of the facilities, the easy access to the water and beaches and parking, plus the overall scenic beauty of the area.

These responses were given during a survey of recreation site visitors in 2023 conducted by Grant PUD staff at several of Grant PUD’s 19 recreation sites. The overall satisfaction level where expectations of the visitors were met or exceeded was at 97.5%. In 2018, that level was at 98.2% and in 2021 at 94.2%.

Lands Specialist Kylie Vroman, who shared the results of the survey with commissioners during a quarterly report on Tuesday, said the Grant PUD recreation team did make one change based on suggestions from the survey. The restrooms at the recreation sites are now being monitored more frequently to make sure hand sanitizer and other supplies are well stocked. Another consistent complaint — the occasional strong winds blowing through the Columbia River Gorge — is more difficult to mitigate, Vroman said. However, the recreation team did add D-ring anchors to campsites so tents can better withstand the gusts.

Visitors are evenly split between those living in the western region of the state and those in the eastern part. West side visitors were 50.5% and eastern Washington visitors were at 49.5%.

Also during the report, License Compliance and Lands Services manager Shannon Lowry shared with commissioners that Grant PUD’s most popular recreation area, Crescent Bar, had about $2.096 million in operating expenses in 2023, and brought in $803,270 in revenue from fees for camping, golfing, plus fuel and rental sales and special use permits. Regarding the golf course, expenses were at $444,285 and revenues were at $228,234. The number of counted rounds played at the golf course has grown from 6,654 in 2018 to 12,456 in 2023. Lowry said that the increase is partially attributed to improved tracking of golfers with seasonal memberships.

Hear the discussion at 3:22:41 of the commission audio and see page 48 of the presentation materials.

Commissioners also:

— Unanimously agreed to postpone until their next meeting, Jan. 23, their vote on Resolution 9041, a proposed 3% average rate-revenue increase, starting April 1. Commissioners will further discuss the proposal at a commission workshop, Jan. 16, from 10-10:30 a.m. in the Boardroom at Grant PUD’s Ephrata Headquarters. They’ll also accept public comment at that time.

— Heard compliance and risk-reduction updates from Reliability and Compliance Manager Glen Pruitt and Enterprise Risk Manager Tracy Johnson. See the full compliance presentation on pages 88-97 of the presentation materials. Here the discussion at 1:53:00 on the commission audio. See the full Enterprise Risk presentation on pages 70-82 of the presentation materials. Hear the discussion at 2:22:28 on the commission audio.


Stay Informed

When you subscribe to the blog, we will send you an e-mail when there are new updates.