In a year marked by two significant events, 2019 saw the number of major power outages fall slightly and all measurable system reliability numbers came in well below five year averages.  A system reliability report released by the Grays Harbor PUD on Monday revealed that the total number of major outages on the utility system (50 or more customers impacted) was down from 296 events in 2018 to 290 events in 2019.  While the total number of customers impacted rose from 54,446 to 57,326, the total hours without service dropped from 198,483 to 181,474.

“Once again our system has performed well under tough conditions and our crews have shown themselves to be amongst the best in the business,” said General Manager Dave Ward.  “For several years our emphasis has been on system strength and vegetation management and this report tells us that the work is paying off in the form of fewer outages and fewer hours in which our customers were without power.”

The 2019 numbers were significantly impacted by two events: a storm on January 6th that knocked out power to over 27,000 customers from the ocean beaches to East County and a car versus pole accident in Central Park on February 5th that brought down a transmission pole, interrupting power to over 7,100 customers in Central Park and Montesano.

Downed trees and storm events continued to be the main causes of outages, accounting for 76% of power interruptions in 2019.  While the number of tree related outages were below the five year average for the second straight year, Ward says it shows the importance of the utility’s tree trimming and mowing cycle.

“We’ve got to keep at it,” said Ward.  “Washington is called the Evergreen State for a reason and without regular attention to tree trimming and undergrowth mowing, you can end up in a situation where blowdowns and falling trees can cause outage numbers to rise.”

At a time when staying connected is more important than ever, the Grays Harbor PUD is teaming together with cities, schools and a large group of state and independent agencies to provide free access to the PUD fiber network.  Using mobile hotspots, free Wi-Fi access will be provided at strategic points around Grays Harbor County.  Users can simply drive-up or walk-up to the sites and immediately have online access for business, school and a host of other needs.

“Today more than ever, internet access is a critical part of our lives and a way to keep connected to family, schools and businesses.  However not everyone has the same level of access, especially in rural Washington.  Mobile sites like these will help to change that,” said PUD Core Services Director Rob Hanny, whose office oversees the PUD Telecommunications Department. 

As of today, three drive-up sites have been agreed upon in Grays Harbor: McCleary City Hall, the Wishkah Valley School, and the Satsop School and should be active by early next week.  The PUD is working with other communities and organizations around the county to bring more sites online.  Equipment for the sites has been provided to the utility free of charge by the Information Technology Disaster Resource Center, a private, industry funded disaster relief organization. 

The local access is part of a larger, statewide effort to provide free Wi-Fi access to Washington residents.  Partners in the state’s drive-in Wi-Fi hotspots project include: Washington State University; Washington State Library, part of the Washington Office of the Secretary of State; members of the Washington Public Utility Districts Association (WPUDA) and affiliated nonprofit Northwest Open Access Network (NoaNet); the Washington State Broadband Office; Washington Independent Telecommunications Association (WITA); Washington Technology Solutions (WaTech); and the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI). 

To date, 140 of the new drive-in hotspots are operational, in addition to 301 existing Washington State Library hotspots identified across the state. All told, some 600 public hotspots will soon be available to keep Washington communities connected. 

For complete information and a map of locations, visit www.driveinwifi.wa.gov.  The map will be updated as more sites come online.

Citing its important role in irrigation, navigation, recreation and energy production, the Grays Harbor PUD has submitted its comments on the Columbia River System Operations Environmental Impact Statement to the Bureau of Reclamation, Army Corps of Engineers and the Bonneville Power Administration.  Authored by those three agencies at the end of February, the EIS supports the Lower Snake River Dams and recommends additional water spill over the dams and increased mitigation efforts to assist salmon run recovery.

“This is an important moment in the history of the Columbia River, the energy industry and our state.  It’s a privilege to be able to tell the story of how the intersection of those three areas impacts our customers, our county and our utility,” said General Manager Dave Ward.

In the comments submitted on Monday, the PUD states that “…the preferred alternative suggested in the draft EIS of increased spill and additional mitigation efforts designed to help (salmon) fry reach open waters is an acceptable method, but needs to be monitored closely to verify fry survival improvement and not create more harm.” 

While the increase of spill over the dams may mean an increase in energy costs for the utility, the PUD points out that the increase is far less than the billions of dollars which would be needed to remove existing hydroelectric dams and replace them with more expensive and less reliable energy sources, which was an alternative considered but not supported in the EIS.  In the PUD comments, the utility urges continued support for resources that generate clean, reliable and affordable energy: “In Grays Harbor, many PUD customers are already struggling to get by with existing costs from the current infrastructure.  To increase the burden by asking them to help foot the bill for new technologies that lack the affordability and reliability that have made hydropower the dominant power resource in the region for nearly a century is an expense many, quite literally, cannot afford.”

The PUD comments also point out the irony in the fact that the elimination of hydropower facilities on the Lower Snake River would be in direct contrast to the Clean Energy Transformation Act passed in 2019 which supported the hydroelectric system: “With a goal of 100% clean energy by 2045, the loss of the clean, emission free energy produced by the dams would deal that goal a severe blow and perhaps force the state to seek energy on the market from emitting resources, thereby working against legislation brought about by cooperation and compromise.”

The value of the hydroelectric facilities on the Columbia and Snake Rivers to their surrounding communities is also supported in the PUD comments which state that the ”economies of these areas depend on the dams in the form of millions of dollars” and “…any actions taken towards their removal would negatively impact Washington and the Pacific Northwest.”

The public comment period on the draft EIS closes tonight, at which point the three governing agencies will compile a final Environmental Impact Statement to be released later this year.

Scammers are at it again making calls to Grays Harbor PUD customers, again using PUD numbers to make the calls appear legitimate.  

In the last week, multiple PUD customers have reported that they had received a phone call from a number that looks to be from the PUD. Once on the line, the callers demand immediate payment on an account they claim to be overdue and threaten to shutoff power unless a payment is made. 

“This scam is very similar to ones attempted in the past, but given the current climate caused by the COVID-19 response, tensions are running higher than normal and scammers are pushing people to make a rash decision.  Given that fact, it’s even more important that you do not volunteer your personal information," says Communications Director Ian Cope.  "If you get an email or phone call threatening to shut off your power or containing account information you think is suspicious, call the PUD Customer Service office to report the scams and to check on your account status.”

Recipients of such fraudulent phone calls should under no circumstances agree to send money or give bank account, credit card or other personal information. Rather, customers are advised to immediately contact PUD Customer Service at 360-532-4220 to verify the claim.

Just over three weeks after the Grays Harbor PUD Board of Commissioners passed a resolution in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the utility is making adjustments to assist customers impacted by the virus.

On Wednesday, the board met in emergency session to pass a resolution which will give General Manager Dave Ward the authority to expand the use of the PUD’s existing assistance programs and practices.  Thus far, they have included the waiving of late fees, the use of donated Project Help dollars to assist customers and delaying the disconnection of power on delinquent accounts.  In addition the utility has chosen to delay a projected 2% rate increase that was to have gone into effect on May 1st.

“This resolution opens more avenues for our Customer Service staff to help customers who have been impacted by COVID-19,” said Board President Russ Skolrood.  “If you are having trouble paying your monthly bill related to the COVID-19 pandemic, please call the PUD immediately.”

As part of the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security or CARES Act, an addition $900-million has been appropriated for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program or LIHEAP.  The resolution adopted by the utility is designed to help bridge the gap between now and the enactment of the federal assistance programs.

“The weight of the circumstances facing some of our customers is becoming heavier and heavier,” said Ward.  “If you take the time to contact the PUD, programs are there to lessen the load.”

The PUD Customer Service office can be reached at (360) 532-4220.  Account information can also be found online at ghpud.org or on the SmartHub mobile app.  Customers who wish to donate to Project Help may do so by filling out the donation section found on the left side of their monthly return invoice, offering a donation of $1.00, $5.00 or “other” where customers may write in the amount they wish to donate. 

In response to the Stay Home, Stay Healthy order put in place by Governor Jay Inslee, the PUD has embraced social distancing by setting up remote work stations for employees, both at home and throughout PUD facilities.  In this way the PUD is able to maintain the critical services they provide to the Grays Harbor community while ensuring a safe and healthy working environment for utility staff.


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