The Grays Harbor PUD Board of Commissioners concluded the 2020 budget process on Monday, unanimously approving a $127-million budget for the coming year that maintains utility services, while investing in the energy and system that make those services possible.  Over 70% of the 2020 spending plan will go to power purchases, with a further $10-million being spent on capital projects to renew and replace utility infrastructure.

“It comes down to the service and the system that keeps the lights on for our customers.  This budget invests in the energy, staff and infrastructure our customers rely on to provide them with high value utility services,” said PUD Board President Russ Skolrood.  “This is a responsible budget for the utility and the customers it serves.”

Of the $10-million capital budget, $4.2-million will be spent on the utility distribution system, just over $2-million each on the utility general plant and transmission system and $1.6-million on the PUD’s substations.  Notable projects will include replacing aging equipment throughout the utility system, beginning work on replacing the 90 year old Chehalis River tower crossing, transformer and breaker replacement at substations throughout Grays Harbor, the replacement of two utility fleet line trucks and the continued growth of the PUD’s telecommunications system.

“The PUD is responsible for telecom and energy service to over 41,000 customers.  To do that we must maintain tens of thousands of transmission and distribution poles, over 1500 miles of overhead and underground lines, 36 substations and hundreds of miles of telecommunications fiber,” said PUD Board Secretary Dave Timmons.  “Working together, our staff have put together a schedule and budget that helps grow and maintain a reliable system.”

PUD customers may see a 2% increase in utility rates, beginning in May of 2020.  With 72% of utility costs tied to power purchases, PUD Board Vice President Arie Callaghan says the increase will cover the rising costs for those purchases, but will not be implemented until after the cooler winter temperatures have passed and the 2020 financial realities are clearer.

“By waiting until May to actually adjust rates, we allow the high energy usage period to pass before impacting customer costs and allow staff to include seasonal factors that may impact the final size of the rate adjustment,” said Callaghan.  “Raising rates is never easy, but by making small adjustments each year, we are able to maintain the long tradition of safe and reliable service our customers expect and deserve.”

The annual fuel mix report from the Department of Commerce again shows that Grays Harbor PUD is almost entirely served by carbon free energy.  The combination of hydro power, power from biomass generators and nuclear power totaled 97.2% of the utility’s power portfolio.  In an era when the attainment of 100% clean energy is the goal of Washington state, it's good to know that the Grays Harbor PUD is already nearing the finish line.

Lower Snake River Dams help keep the lights on

By Commissioners Russ Skolrood, Arie Callaghan and Dave Timmons

When the lights go out, they usually come back on quickly.  The Northwest’s reliable power network and professional line crews help to ensure that.  However, a situation exists that could render those points moot.  What happens when the lights go out because there is not enough power to handle the demand?  While it may seem an unlikely occurrence, that scenario could become a reality if the reliable power resources of the Federal Columbia River Power System (FCRPS) are removed.

Hydroelectric power in the Northwest has been fighting to defend its value for years, but recently the call for dam removal on the Lower Snake River in particular has increased in volume.  However, those who believe the dams to be expendable tend to overlook a few facts that lead to a concrete conclusion: those dams help keep the lights on in the Northwest.  

To say that the four dams on the Lower Snake, the Ice Harbor, Lower Monumental, Little Goose and Lower Granite, are a critical component on the Northwest power system is all fine and well, but when you examine the numbers, it becomes even clearer.  The power coming from the four dams strengthens the backbone of the Northwest power system and can be ramped up and down as needed.  That’s not the case with wind and solar power.  Those resources certainly have their value and their growth should be encouraged, but they should be part of an integrated energy system, not one that eliminates a tried and true resource like hydro just to replace it with something new.

One of the most overlooked facts about alternative energy resources like wind and solar is the most obvious: the wind doesn’t always blow and the sun is not up 24 hours a day.  That creates some big reliability gaps and without suitable, affordable storage solutions, those resources simply cannot be counted on to power an entire region, certainly not one that already has a reliable energy base.  Reliability is what makes hydropower special.  Times of peak demand are when the Lower Snake Dams are needed most and unlike those other sources, they don’t come up short.   At times of peak water flow, the dams can produce in excess of 2600 megawatts of energy.  That number represents 10 percent of the FCRPS capacity.  It seems shortsighted to eliminate a tenth of the power generated on the rivers and replace it with the hope that new generation will be there to keep the lights on. 

Imagine arriving home on a cold night only to find that the power was out, not because of an accident, but because the power wasn’t available to meet the region’s needs.  Without the Lower Snake Dams it could have happened on March 5 of this year. As a late winter cold snap caused temperatures across the Northwest to plunge, Bonneville Power Administration wind generation was accounting for just six megawatts during the coldest evening hours; a time when people were arriving home, turning on their lights and heaters, seeking a little comfort.  At that time, the Lower Snake Dams were called on to churn out 1337 megawatts for heating homes, powering appliances and running lifesaving medical equipment – basic needs for thousands of Northwest residents.  To put it in simpler terms, they were providing comfort and safety when it was needed. 

Capacity issues under current conditions alone make the Lower Snake River dams valuable, but those conditions are changing.  The Pacific Northwest is growing and growing fast.  According to the US Census Bureau, the region gained over 200,000 new residents between July 2016 and July 2017.  Washington alone is anticipated to have over 7.5-million residents by 2020.  Combine those numbers with nearly 3000 megawatts lost by the retirement of coal fired facilities in Montana, Oregon and Washington and it begs the question: Is now really the time to consider ripping out proven resources with nothing more than the hope that new resources can cover the need? 

Storms, damaged equipment and car accidents are all unavoidable causes of power outages.  Power utilities deal with them, make repairs and move on.  Threatening the system with an outage that can be avoided makes no sense.  The Lower Snake River Dams help keep the light on throughout the Northwest.  Allow them to continue that essential service.

 

An annual review of the Grays Harbor PUD accountability and financial statements resulted in no findings and a strong report on the financial workings and accountability of the utility.

 

“This report makes me very proud of the staff of the Grays Harbor PUD,” said PUD Commission Secretary Dave Timmons.  “These reviews and reports from the state tell our customers that their trust is well placed and that their utility is in the hands of a professional and responsible staff.”

 

In closing the month long review on Tuesday, representatives of the Washington State Auditor’s Office commended the utility for its accountability and transparency in areas including procurement, accounts receivable, cash receipting, accounts payable, financial condition and fiscal sustainability and open public meetings.

 

In the review of financial statements, the Auditors office reported that the utility financial statements were presented fairly and “in accordance with the accounting principles generally accepted in the United States of America.” 

 

“You guys really are running a top notch shop here,” said State Auditor Audit Lead Jordan Coleman.

The Grays Harbor PUD prides itself on the affordability, safety and reliability of its power.  However, a fourth element worth noting is the environmental stewardship the PUD achieves through the clean energy provided to our customers.  In the same year in which lawmakers voted through a 100% Clean Energy bill, the Grays Harbor PUD can proudly boast a fuel mix which is over 98% carbon free (2017 Fuel Mix Disclosure, Washington State Department of Commerce).


Our mission: Serve our community with high value utility services at the lowest practical cost.


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