Tim Hanigan, counsel for the PUD, discussed the potential ramifications of House Bill 2176 with the commissioners. The bill, which is working its way through the state legislature, concerns renewable energy. It states that a third party cannot come into a district and provide a low cost lease or loan program for renewable energy systems, like solar panels, if the public utility is already doing so. However, if a public utility opts out, it opens the door for the third party.
“We may want to develop a policy if that does pass,” Hanigan said.
“Centurylink is one of the proponents of this,” Healy said. “They want to hang their cables on our poles and perhaps put antennas on them for low level cell service. The poles belong to our ratepayers. The ownership is still you and me and our friends and neighbors.”
“That’s the way they want it,” said Hanigan. “So that you have to maintain the pole and they still get to use it.”
“It takes disputes into a private office instead of an open court room,” said Commissioner Dennis Reid. “I think we feel that if there was a dispute, how will it be settled? We could get a different decision every time we meet with an arbitrator.”
“Essentially it is a incremental erosion of our right to make decisions locally,” Commissioner Robert Jungers said.
They also discussed a bill that would limit liability for fire damage and another regarding customer information.
On the local level, Auditor Erin Wilson shared that the utility’s Residential Energy Assistance Program’s available balance is $169. The fund has seen heavy use in the last month, Wilson said.
“It’s a great program,” said Reid. “I wish we could get every customer to pledge a dollar a month.”
Wilson also shared that individuals from Lower Columbia CAP, which provides assistance for low income individuals, had been traveling to Cathlamet to meet with potential customers.
“I think it’s very helpful and nice that they see people here in town,” Wilson said. “I’ve gotten good feedback from locals. It’s a good program.”
The utility’s software vendor has been making some tweaks to their system that will eventually show up on the customer interface on the PUD website, Wilson said, adding that the vendor is creating an app that will allow customers to pay their bill on their smart phones.
The commissioners passed a resolution to increase Manager Dave Tramblie’s compensation to $10,050.69 per month, retroactive to January 1, 2014.