PUD developing long range capital plan
November 3, 2022
At the Wahkiakum County PUD Board of Commissioners meeting on Tuesday, a budget hearing opened and closed without public comment, and the board heard about long range planning, matters affecting PUDs throughout the state, and work here in the county.
General Manager Dan Kay said that PUD employees sat down together recently to identify projects appropriate for a five year capital plan.
“We’re trying a collaborative approach instead of top down,” he said.
Auditor Erin Wilson said it was a good meeting with the crew, adding that they were engaged and had a lot of good thought.
“I think we’ll have something in the next several weeks to bring forth,” Kay told commissioners.
Kay shared a cautionary tale he heard about a PUD on the east side of the state that is giving other utilities pause when they consider new customers.
He said that 80 percent of that particular PUD’s load was a newsprint plant, and when it shut down, there were enquiries from prospective buyers. The PUD spoke to their general counsel, a banking representative, and third party legal counsel when one prospective company turned out to be a data miner.
Now PUDs are beginning to have questions about who they do business with, Kay said, and it was recommended that they do their due diligence and ascertain the real owner, in case it potentially involves illegal activity.
“Do more than just sign the contract, take some cash, and look at a driver’s license,” Kay said.
Kay talked about potentially changing heat related laws and how that might one day affect day to day work at Wahkiakum PUD, wildfires and wildfire coverage, and the Clean Energy Transformation Act.
Kay said that there may be a shifting stance in how different agencies mitigate wildfires, with a more collaborative approach.
“The Department of Natural Resources has some expertise and could help advise on fire mitigation plans,” Kay said.
He said there have been times when PUDs have been afraid to cut a tree down because of its location, but now the DNR is saying they can use their own judgement.
“We’re not wildlife firefighters, but there are things we can do to truly help prevent wildfires and reduce liability,” Kay said.
“There are some pretty large fires in Skamania County and whatnot that have been caused by trees that fell on the lines that the PUDs have been trying to get authority to cut down and been denied and then they fall on the lines and a fire starts, and the PUD is sued,” Commissioner Dennis Reid said.
“It’s really affecting our fire coverage,” Wilson said. “Some utilities aren’t able to get coverage for it anymore.”
“It’s going to be a hot topic,” Kay said. “We’ve seen some small fires here, that knock on wood, we haven’t been sent a bill from DNR yet, and if we can work with them I would like to prevent that.”
“That’s why we are actively doing tree trimming last week and this week. Wahkiakum PUD takes that very seriously,” Counsel Tim Hanigan said.
Kay talked about the Clean Energy Transformation Act, which he said would impact Wahkiakum at one point, but so far he wasn’t sure how much.
He said that some utilities were already collecting fees to help fund a low-income program that PUDs must establish by 2030.
As for the continuing inquiry to locate a secondary water source on Puget Island, Kay said that he and Wilson met with Cathlamet Mayor David Olson to see if the Town of Cathlamet had any interest in collaborating.
The mayor in turn asked if there was consensus with the board for having those discussions.
There were no objections.
Kay said that the PUD was in the third week of tree trimming, which they were doing two days a week along SR 4, using a third party to do traffic control.
“It is a challenge,” Kay said. “We are in hunting season, we have had some illness, but we’re trying to get resources because we have traffic control blocked out.”
He said they also had some large customer projects they were working on, they were hooking up services every week, and preparing for storm season. The water department has been helping with the electric side while they continue to do maintenance and leak detection.
“It is a very active time right now,” Kay said.