PUD talks about low income program
September 7, 2023
The Wahkiakum County PUD Board of Commissioners heard reports and talked about potential impacts of a low income program being drafted by the state as part of the Clean Energy Transformation Act, which requires utilities to shift to clean, renewable and non-emitting resources by 2045.
During reports, General Manager Dan Kay said a multiple month tree trimming project was recently completed by a contractor, and the total cost came in just under it’s $250,000 budget. The work helps prevent power outages, and reduces risks of fire, among other things.
“I want to thank the commissioners for supporting vegetation management,” Kay said. “It was a tremendous year for us. I think it’s really going to pay dividends.”
Kay said there had been more meetings with Governor Jay Inslee’s office and the Washington Department of Commerce, and they were learning about more avenues for funding local projects.
“It does feel like there is very positive support from the state on the Puget Island water project and so it has a real positive vibe,” Kay said.
Commissioner Reid said he spoke with Representative Joel McEntire, and believed he was in favor of the project and was pleased they may have funding from federal and state levels.
“I think he’s on board,” Reid said.
Kay said they also met with the representative last week to brief him on county wide projects, and that he appeared to be excited, and asked how he could help.
In the field, electric and water crews completed a joint project to replace a cross country water and electric line along North Hull Creek.
“I like to hear you are replacing 50 year old water lines,” Reid said. “To keep up with our system, you need to be replacing two or three percent a year so you don’t run into a 50 year end of life and have the whole thing to replace at once.”
Crews are beginning to prepare for the coming fall and winter storm season and have also compiled a collection of old, obsolete, and failed transformers for surplus. Kay said there wasn’t a lot of value, but they would get a little bit of money for them.
An application for a PUD and Town of Cathlamet water system consolidation feasibility study grant was finally submitted and Kay is awaiting the results.
When pressed, Kay said he felt pretty confident that the study would be selected for a grant, and that the PUD should know more later this year. If they do get the funds, the study could be completed by next summer.
If they were that confident, Healy wondered, why wait?
“If we start work before we are awarded the grant, we may not be able to recover the money,” Kay said.
“You’d like to get the grant to support the document versus self funding, is that still the same direction?” He asked.
“That’s the ideal direction,” Healy said.
Kay suggested waiting a little longer to see if they get the grant, as they already had a lot of projects on the list and in the budget.
Auditor Erin Wilson said a state audit was scheduled to begin in October.
She recently sat in on another webinar about CETA. There has been a lot of talk about the different ways the low income portion in the act could be delivered, and nothing has yet been determined.
“I think there is a lot of work yet to be done to figure that out,” she said.
Kay told the commissioners that the thinking behind the low income program was that the state could do a better job of low income assistance programs than the individual utilities can.
“You can hear the reluctance in my voice there,” he said. “We think that public power, or individual utilities, does a much better job knowing our customer base than the state does.”
For the time being they are waiting and watching the legislature to see what happens. The program doesn’t have to be in place until 2030, Wilson said.
“The state is coming from the angle that since they already have people enrolled in other programs, that they’ve already got the database and information on people and they should be able to tell you the people in your area and how much money we need to provide for that assistance,” she added.
“It just seems to me that if we leave it up to the state, we may not like it,” Healy said. “Our customers may not like it. We pride ourselves, and the laws give us, local control. This is the case where we are going to lose control, period. Local control means the people of this county have a right to set their own destiny on issues on health and water.”
“I don’t mind the legislature saying, let’s have a policy to assist low income people,” Healy added. “I have a little bit of a problem with getting that process all bound up with those agencies up there. We’re going to lose control, we being us, the people out here, we’re going to be doing things we disagree with. They aren’t going to last five minutes, they are going to last 100 years.”
“It’s going to get interesting,” Kay said. “The state is saying that we are not doing a good enough job helping our own customers and they are using other state sponsored programs as their metrics. A lot of our climate and electrification policies have this low income component tagged to it. We’re going to have to be busy next year in Olympia.”
Wilson went over the current cash flow with commissioners.
She said that donations to the Residential Energy Assistance Program were down, but they had a lot funds available. For some reason, fewer people are seeking assistance.