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No electric rate increase in Chelan County PUD’s 2018 budget: Sixth year in a row

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Rocky Reach Dam. (Photo courtesy of Chelan County PUD)

PUD Commissioners approve spending plan that supports investment in dams and grid; continues to pay down debt.

WENATCHEE, WA – Chelan County PUD commissioners Monday unanimously approved a 2018 budget that supports strategic priorities of investing in key assets including major work at Rock Island and Rocky Reach dams, continuing to pay down debt and funding existing Public Power Benefit projects.

There is no increase in retail electric rates for the sixth straight year. Since 2000, Chelan PUD electric rates have only gone up 9 percent while the consumer price index has risen by 39 percent.  General Manager Steve Wright said that in the coming years, however, the District will evaluate how long this can be maintained without creating risk of large rate increases in the future.

Next year’s spending plan continues the strategy of investing for long-term value, said Wright. The 2018 capital budget is the largest in at least 15 years.

The significant capital projects in the 2018 budget will make sure Chelan PUD’s valuable hydro assets –  that produce low rates and high reliability – are in shape to provide superior performance for decades to come. Wright said the District is in the midst of accomplishing roughly double the amount of major refurbishment work at its hydro projects than would occur in a normal five-year period. “It’s going to be a challenging year to get all this work done,” he said.

Powerhouse bridge crane being used at Rocky Reach Dam. (Photo courtesy of Chelan County PUD)

One example is rebuilding the bridge cranes inside the Rocky Reach Powerhouse. Brett Bickford, Engineering and Project Management director, reported on discovering additional wear on the 1950s-era equipment during scheduled maintenance. Doing the work now will save $2 million over buying new cranes without the risk of design issues and provide another 40-50 years of life. Fixing the extra wear will add time and about $550,000 to the project. (00:09 on the board meeting audio)

Listen to Chelan County PUD Commissioner Meeting Dec. 4, 2017 audio

Despite aggressive energy-saving programs, electrical use is growing faster than the national average. Aging substations need to be replaced and new ones added, plus other grid upgrades, to meet that growth. In addition, John Stoll, Customer Utilities managing director, reported inquiries related to cryptocurrency mining have spiked as the price of Bitcoin has rapidly increased. He said staff receives more than 20 calls in a week. “We’re in a dynamic period” for load growth, Stoll said.

Chelan PUD expects to end 2018 with a positive bottom line of nearly $72 million, down from the $85 million forecast in last year’s budget. Expenditures of $366 million include paying down debt by another $24 million. Expenditures are up 7 percent from last year, reflecting the investment at the dams and in the power grid to serve forecasted growth in the county. 

Chelan County PUD General Manager Steve Wright. (Photo courtesy of Chelan County PUD)

Commissioners thanked staff for the months of work leading to passing the budget. “Today is an important day,” said Board President Randy Smith. (01:00)

On a majority vote, commissioners also authorized staff to move forward with advanced, two-way metering as a preferred alternative for future customer meters and as part of a new customer technology program.  Commissioners reviewed  extensive outreach and research done since 2005 and heard from seven customers who spoke at Monday’s meeting about health and safety concerns. Several asked for an “opt-in” provision rather than “opt-out” if an eventual decision is reached on installing the smart meters. (02:05)

Stoll, Customer Utilities managing director, said there is value for customers by combining the customer information system with features that use data provided by advanced meters that includes:

  • Faster and more accurate outage notification and faster service restoration
  • Faster response on billing questions
  • Ability to manage a PUD account from anywhere
  • More accurate billing and fewer estimated bills
  • Less need for a PUD employee to enter customer property
  • Easier energy use management
  • Help to decide if a conservation program will save money

Commissioner Ann Congdon said it was a difficult decision, but she voted against taking the next step toward advanced meters. “There are too many negatives, for my part, in terms of health effects,” she said.

All board members thanked those who spoke for sharing their opinions and concerns. Commissioner Garry Arseneault urged them to take their concerns about the technology to other authorities with responsibilities for controlling the use of radio frequencies in our daily lives, too.

Wright said the board’s decision will aid the planning process, with details to be developed as part of system design and asking for proposals on specific equipment. Plans are to ask commissioners for a decision to proceed with a request for proposals for advanced meters in about a year.  

In other business, PUD commissioners:

1) Reviewed the 2017 performance of the fiber network and telecom projects. Mike Coleman, Fiber and Telecom managing director, said the fiber network is stable, reliable and approaching 15,000 active connections. Public Power Benefit expansion added access for 1,068 locations this year – 1,798 total. Plans are to reach 1,059 more locations in 2018. Expansion is planned along Chumstick Highway, in Merry Canyon, finishing Brender Canyon and along Manson Boulevard. Also planned is filling in access in Cashmere, Chelan and Plain. Marketing to increase awareness about the broadband network is planned to address results from a survey that found the most common reason for not signing up for service was not knowing it was available.   

2) Set a target for conservation savings of 2.44 average megawatts (aMW) for 2018-2019, as required by the state.  The target is based on an updated 10-year conservation potential assessment. The PUD achieved its previous two-year target of 1.78 aMW.   

3) Set a special meeting at 3 p.m. on Dec. 11 to discuss the shoreline master plan with Chelan County commissioners at 400 Douglas St., Wenatchee.

4) Rescheduled next month’s board meetings to Jan. 8 and 22. 

5) Set meetings to discuss a proposed rate for energy-saving municipal LED streetlights at 5:30 p.m. on:

a) Dec.  11 at the PUD Leavenworth office

b) Dec. 12 at the PUD Chelan Office

c) Dec. 20 at Confluence Technology Center in Wenatchee

6) Set a hearing on the proposed rate for municipal LED streetlights for Jan. 8 as part of the regular commission meeting in the Wenatchee boardroom 

Upcoming Events:

  • Dec. 18 – Board meeting, 10 a.m.
  • Dec. 25 – Christmas holiday
  • Jan. 1, 2018 – New Year’s holiday
  • Jan. 8 – Board meeting, 10 a.m.
  • Jan. 13 – Multicultural Festival, Wenatchee Valley Museum and Cultural Center
  • Jan. 22 – Board meeting, 10 a.m. 

Commissioners will meet in special session at 3 p.m. on Dec. 11 to discuss the shoreline master plan with Chelan County commissioners at 400 Douglas St. The next regular Chelan PUD commission meeting starts at 10 a.m. on Monday, Dec. 18, 2017, in the boardroom at 327 N. Wenatchee Ave. 

Chelan PUD records most commission meetings, and a link to the audio is available on the PUD’s home page at www.chelanpud.org. Find us on Facebook.com/ChelanPUD and follow us on Twitter @ChelanPUD.

(By Kimberlee Craig, Chelan County PUD)

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