PUD Commission Ponders
by Diana Zimmerman
The Wahkiakum County PUD Board of Commissioners on Tuesday learned about the PUD's updated website, tree trimming and pole testing, and discussed long term planning.
Commissioner Gene Healy had questions about long term planning for the PUD, about continued reliance on the Bonneville Power Administration in a changing world, and whether there would be enough water to serve the community in the future.
"I guess I thought that maybe we would want to have a plan in the macro, rather than the micro," he said. "I'm curious as to when you project that Bonneville electricity is so expensive that you have to do something else. Maybe that's never. Maybe I don't know."
"I haven't gotten any idea if there is ever a time in history when local generation is appropriate," he added. "Is it worth discussing?"
General Manager Dan Kay said he had been talking with the auditor and counsel about long range planning, including budgets, addressing areas of need, low income programs, and more.
"I don't have a good feel for our growth over time," Healy said. "We ought to be able to plot it out on what we've done the last 20 years and look at the next 20 years, and there's a point where we don't have enough cheap electricity to keep those rates where we can afford to buy it. We need to know that at this table."
Kay agreed that they should talk to BPA about the rates the PUD pays to the power supplier.
"We need to sit down with Bonneville and find out truly where we're at," Kay said. "I believe we are close to our contract high water mark, but with our account executive I have not gotten an exact number."
"Saying that everything is going to stay the same for the next 20 years is not going to happen," Healy continued. "There is going to be a whole different concept. This pressure for renewables isn't some joke. It's real. Imagine the lower Snake River dams are gone. We aren't going to be building any more dams. There is some point where this PUD or others like us may choose to fire up their own generation…There is a point out there when that's going to happen. I don't know if it's now, or 50 or a hundred years from now."
"There is one thing to be doing the operational part of it," Healy said of long term planning, "but there is also the pie in the sky, and the dreamer's portion. We need to be doing some of that."
In broadband news, Kay said the PUD would join Wahkiakum West in a pilot project to extend broadband in Skamokawa up East Valley and Middle Valley Roads.
"They believe that the Skamokawa area is more underserved," Kay said. "They are working on the final designs and permitting but realistically we can start on this in April."
A new PUD website has been developed by Customer Service Representative Lia Sealund and Auditor Erin Wilson to replace their old, outdated one and is expected to go live this week.
"You may not see a lot of significant differences in the platform," Sealund said, "though it should be more user friendly, and perhaps a better opportunity to maintain it and keep up the security."
Kay said that the PUD did not receive any bids for a tree trimming and vegetation management project. Commissioner Bob Jungers wondered if the PUD could do the project in-house, but Kay said it would take 10-12 weeks, and that they would need flaggers and special bucket trucks.
"We still have new construction, we still have pole testing, we still have pipe to replace and underground cable," he added. "I don't believe we can incorporate all that we could do in that. It would be possible but it is a significant amount of time."
The PUD will continue to look for a contractor to complete the project.
After evaluating bids for pole testing on the Westend, Kay recommended that the commissioners award the project to National Wood Treating Company from Albany, OR. The commission approved the bid, and the project is not to exceed $80,000.
According to Counsel Tim Hanigan, Computer Link NW and Western Wahkiakum Telephone had returned sign pole attachment agreements to the PUD. He was expecting to receive another one from Noanet soon, and was still waiting on agreements from three other companies.
Commissioners also approved travel for the general manager to attend a Utility Energy Forum in Cambria, CA in April, and a Northwest Public Power Administration meeting in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, in May.
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