No Rate Increase in Adopted Chelan PUD Budget

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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.  In the coming years, however, Wright said, 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 General Manager Steve Wright. The 2018 capital budget is the largest in at least 15 years. Steve Hair talked with Wright about the budget in an exclusive NCWLIFE interview . . .

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.

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)

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.

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 because “there are too many negatives, for my part, in terms of health effects.”

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.

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Steve Hair

Steve Hair is a 40-year veteran broadcast journalist who comes to NCW LIFE TV after a long career in radio. Steve and his wife Lynette and their three sons moved to the Wenatchee Valley from Central California in 1992. Steve served as News Director for KPQ News where he covered a multitude of stories of importance to North Central Washington, including two of Washington State’s largest wildfires. During his radio career Steve has received many awards from organizations such as the Associated Press, (Sacramento and Seattle Bureaus) The Washington State Farm Bureau, and the California Medical Association. Steve is a sports addict. Time off usually finds him sprawled out on the couch watching the Seahawks, Mariners or anything that prevents him from doing house chores.