An increase in the number of storm and tree related outages in 2020 led to an increase in total power outages for the Grays Harbor PUD.  PUD crews responded to 345 outages, impacting 59,068 customers for a total of 186,224 hours.  Although all three totals represented an increase from 2019, the total hours and customers impacted fell well below the averages of the last five years. 

The main cause of the increase were storm, wind and tree related outages, accounting for 69% of the outages in 2020.  November proved to be one of the toughest months of the year, with three significant storm events accounting for 11,392 customers without power, or 19% of the yearly total.

“When you live on the coast of the Evergreen State, you need to take precautions for storms and falling trees and these numbers show just how important those investments are,” said PUD Commission President Russ Skolrood.  “Outage totals would be significantly higher without the PUD’s vegetation management efforts, the strength of our system and the skills of the professionals who respond to these outages and get the power back on as safely and as quickly as they can.”

This year the PUD invested $1.2-million in tree trimming, tree removal and mowing the right of ways around power lines to keep them clear of low hanging trees, branches and undergrowth.

“We need to continue to focus on vegetation management and strengthening the PUD system,” said General Manager Schuyler Burkhart.  “If you look at areas where the PUD has made a major investment in the past, you see that the number of outages have gone down.  Our capital budget will continue to focus on areas of need and ensure that system improvements will increase the reliability of the services we provide to our customers.”

The Grays Harbor PUD Board of Commissioners have approved a resolution authorizing a 2% increase for its electrical customers, going into effect at the beginning of June.  The increase was included in the 2021 budget which was passed last November, but was not enacted during the high energy usage winter months.  In addition, the delay allowed the utility to complete its financial analysis for 2020 and the first months of 2021.

“The decision to raise rates is not one that the Board takes lightly and comes only after a detailed examination of the PUD’s financial state,” said PUD Board President Russ Skolrood.  “With power purchases making up 70% of our budget, the two-percent increase recommended by utility staff is the lowest practical amount that will allow the PUD to cover those costs and continue the critical service our customers rely upon for their homes and businesses.”   

“This is not a decision that we enjoy making and it is never an easy one,” said PUD Board Vice President Arie Callaghan.  “But costs continue to rise and we have a responsibility to operate the utility in a safe and reliable manner.”

The increase will be the first rate adjustment by the utility in two years.  The PUD Board chose not to increase rates in 2020 in response to the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.  In addition, the utility delayed implementing the increase until the beginning of June, rather than the beginning of May as was originally scheduled.

“I am glad we were able to delay this increase until the spring and push it back by one month to June 1st,” said PUD Board Secretary Dave Timmons.  “I understand that this will impact all our customers during an already difficult time, but small annual adjustments like these that cover increasing costs are the responsible way to go since they help the PUD cover costs and avoid making larger increases that can have a greater impact on our customer’s budgets.”

The utility’s system charge of $39.00 will not be increased.  The charge is paid monthly by every PUD residential customer to cover system maintenance and repair, and is adjusted by recommendation of a cost of service study conducted by an independent, outside agency.

The Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program or LIHEAP (administered by the Coastal Community Action Program) is accepting appointments for those seeking assistance in paying home energy bills.  Beginning on Thursday, April 15th at 10:00 AM, appointments may be made online at www.coastalcap.org.  If you do not have internet access, you may call on April 15th (phone # - 800-828-4883) beginning at 8:00AM.  

The Grays Harbor PUD has received a national commendation from the American Public Power Association for its support in restoration efforts in Clark County following the President’s Day Weekend Ice Storm.

“A fundamental part of the utility business is the respect we all share for our highly specialized line workers,” said Clark Public Utilities CEO/General Manger Lena Wittler. “In times of emergency, mutual aid can be the difference between hours, days or even weeks of recovery as our crews work around the clock to restore power. We are grateful to Grays Harbor PUD for their assistance.”

After working for nearly two days to restore power to almost 10,000 Grays Harbor PUD customers impacted by freezing rain, snow and ice, two volunteer Grays Harbor crews were dispatched to the area north of Vancouver, Washington following a request for mutual aid from Clark Public Utilities.  For two days, the Grays Harbor crews assisted Clark crews with restoration efforts related to the same storm, which knocked power out to 50,000 customers.

“They were great! Excellent attitudes, helpful and hard working.  I would put them on the top of the list for any mutual assistance in the future,” said Clark Public Utilities Director of Operations Gene Morris.

“This is a great example of the dedication, skill and professionalism of our crews,” said Grays Harbor PUD General Manager Schuyler Burkhart.  “After working in the cold, snow and freezing rain here, they answered the call for aid from a neighboring utility.  That demonstrates a dedication to service.  I am so proud of the way our crews responded and the reputation they have earned in our region and throughout the industry.”

As part of the feasibility study to increase broadband service in the SR-12 (South Elma, Porter-Malone, Oakville, neighboring areas) area of East County, the Grays Harbor PUD will be hosting a pair of virtual community meetings for residents and business owners in that area. The first meeting on March 24th will focus on broadband for commercial/business customers and the second meeting on March 31st will focus on broadband for residential customers.  A second meeting for commercial/business customers has been scheduled for Tuesday, April 6 at 4:00 PM.