PUD considers grants and feasibility study
July 20, 2023
On Tuesday, the Wahkiakum County PUD Board of Commissioners discussed grants, including one to conduct a feasibility study on a consolidation of water systems, as well as other issues and potential issues that could affect the utility and its customers in coming years.
General Manager Dan Kay said that five grants were submitted as of the last PUD meeting and they were now in the “hurry up and wait, follow up stage,” and that too was keeping them busy.
After learning about a cybersecurity grant at a recent Council of Government meeting, the PUD decided to request funding, and went to work on another application, which was due that day.
Kay asked commissioners for direction on yet another grant that would fund a feasibility study regarding consolidation of the Town of Cathlamet and PUD water systems, which would provide an update to the study conducted in 2016.
“Is it worthwhile to dust that application off and see if it is feasible?” he asked.
In 2016, according to Commissioner Bob Jungers, parties from both the town and the PUD were interested in having the feasibility study done. The completed study determined that consolidation was feasible, though certain criteria had to be resolved, he said. Ultimately, nothing was done about it.
“There are some new players now,” Jungers said, “it might be sensible to reopen the issue with another feasibility study and have all parties take another look at it.”
“I would like some indication that this is something that can actually happen,” Commissioner Dennis Reid said, “and not just spending state’s money just to be spending it.”
Jungers wondered if a new study could develop concrete solutions to the issues listed in the 2016 study, in order to give the parties currently involved more direction, and in a way that was palatable to both parties.
“I believe those challenges that were there then are going to be there now,” Kay said. “There were some more generic type responses on how to mitigate, but I think that would need to be addressed.”
The commissioners later authorized Kay to apply for the Consolidated Feasibility Study Grant through the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund in order to update the 2016 study.
Kay spoke briefly about some policies including the Clean Energy Transformation Act, the Climate Commitment Act, and low carbon fuel standards, which are designed in hopes of reducing greenhouse gas and carbon emissions.
“There are components of that that will affect the PUD both in a positive and in a negative way,” Kay said. “Some in the revenue stream, some in the expense stream. All this will hit us in the budget for years to come.”
He also spoke about heat worker rules, which calls for more frequent breaks for employees at higher temperatures. A new law which just went into effect this month started as an emergency work order by the Department of Labor and Industry, he said, and the Washington PUD Association and the Wahkiakum PUD are in opposition to it.
“It could affect our day to day operations,” he said. “Realistically you have a hard time getting a lot of stuff done.”
The PUD already has mandated safety meetings every year where they address heat stress and work approaches, he explained, and every day they talk about the type work that was going to be done and how to work appropriately.
There is already an exemption to the new law, for emergency circumstances, he said, to protect, maintain and restore safe and reliable, essential services.
“That’s what we do every day,” Kay said. “We are doing a very good job of it and we are going to continue to do that, and we are going to continue to protect our employees.:
“We’re already protecting our people and we don’t like our local control being challenged,” Reid added.
Locally, the electric crew started an underground cable replacement project in the Westend and the water crew continues to help with flagging, new installations, and maintenance work, according to Kay.
“The maintenance takes a lot of time, but it’s vital,” Kay said.
After the PUD’s first appearance in the Bald Eagle Days parade in 15 years this weekend, it seems they went to work on a downed power line.
Auditor Erin Wilson was not at the meeting, but Kay shared her report. He talked about how the PUD might address low income assistance to the energy burden, which the state is currently trying to determine before it goes into effect in seven years.
"We don’t know how much we are going to have to collect from one group to give to another,” Kay said. “It is a complicated issue and there are still a lot of things to work out.”
According to Reid, WPUDA wasn’t saying that PUD’s shouldn’t have assistance for low income customers, rather that the legislature should fund the program if they are designing it, and not other rate payers.
“These are items that do affect our long term plan, do affect our budgets and we want to keep them in front of commissioners,” Kay said. “We are trying to influence Olympia.”
The commissioner approved a resolution adjusting Kay’s compensation to $15,150 a month, retroactive January 2023.