WENATCHEE – Chelan County PUD commissioners Monday (Nov. 6) voted unanimously to move forward on plans to purchase property on Henderson Road for the purpose of siting the new North Shore Lake Chelan substation. Fewer than a dozen residents from the Chelan area attended the extended meeting held at 5:30 p.m. at the Confluence Technology Center.
General Manager Steve Wright highlighted some of the questions that the community had put forward in the last few weeks and Project Manager Gary Rice provided some new cost analysis information that was performed after residents asked the PUD to look at some additional site considerations.
Commissioners heard public comment from those who wished to speak. In all, five people talked about their concern with the Henderson site. Public comment was closed and Commission President Randy Smith asked PUD Counsel Erik Wahlquist to provide some guidance to the Board on next steps. Wahlquist explained several options available to the Commission.
Commissioner Smith expressed the Board’s appreciation for the many community members who participated in more than two years of engagement to find a solution satisfactory to everyone and expressed regret that turned out not to be possible and a hard choice needed to be made in order to keep the lights on across the north shore. Of the 18 alternative areas studied, the Henderson option has the lowest impact on nearby landowners with minimal cost impact for all PUD customer-owners.
Commissioner Ann Congdon moved to authorize the General Manager to exercise the District’s option to acquire the Henderson properties. Commissioner McKenna seconded the motion and went on to say that he still owns a home in Manson and was a resident of the North Shore community for many years. In the time since the Wapato and Union Valley substations were built, there have been 44 developments along the North Shore – all of them have been “borrowing” power from the existing substations. McKenna expressed that he feels the location selected will provide the best service with the least visual impact to neighbors.
Commissioner Bolz added that his obligation as a Commissioner is to take into consideration that his decisions affect the well-being of 48,000 customer-owners. The substation decision is one that has long-term implications for the whole District. He went on to say that the District has been financially disciplined and came out of the most recent recession with a resolve to protect the financial health of the organization. He expressed concern that the District faces an uncertain financial future in terms of revenue and that the Public Utility District does not have ‘deep pockets.’ He added his appreciation for those who have been involved in this process for more than two years, including the focus group members, the broader community, the Mayor and Council, and how thankful he is for the professional knowledge and expertise of PUD staff in providing a thoughtful and transparent process.
Commissioner Arseneault acknowledged that the existing substations are reaching 80 percent capacity and we know that we are heading into another cold winter that will put additional stress on the current system. In speaking to those in attendance, he expressed that it’s important to remember that it’s not just new development that has added to the additional load, but all of the electronics that each and every one of us use daily. He went on to add that the PUD searched for the “perfect” location and we invited the public along on this two-year journey with countless meetings and comments and discussions, and that staff has done incredible work to get us to the point where we are tonight. Arseneault said that it is time to move forward to meet the power demands of the north shore.
Commissioner Congdon added her regret that a perfect site couldn’t be found that met everyone’s criteria. She expressed that she felt personally responsible to bring the motion forward to be able to move on with resolution and with the hope that the PUD can find ways to mitigate the impact on any neighbors.
Commissioner Smith closed the comments, adding that Commissioners never want to disappoint any customer-owner, yet in order to fairly represent all residents of Chelan County, there has to be compromise. He added that he is hopeful that the talented staff at the PUD can continue to work with all stakeholders to make this substation a showcase for what substations can be in a residential view area and that the Lake Chelan North Shore Substation becomes a world-class model for other utilities.
On a 5-0 vote, the motion was approved and the extended session adjourned at 7:40 p.m.
In other business,
• Received a briefing on the 2018 budget that reflects no electric rate increase for the sixth straight year. Staff will come back on Nov. 20, with additional details, but initial figures released today show continued investment in the District’s key generating assets driving a $128 million Capital budget – the highest in several years since work on the juvenile fish by-pass at Rocky Reach Dam. The budget reflects the significant modernization work to be done at Rock Island, continued work on the large turbine units at Rocky Reach, planned improvements to the surge tank at Chelan dam, as well as debt reduction plans. 2018 net surplus energy forecasts show a $9.5 million decrease from the 2017 budget, but the District’s long-term “cost-plus” power contracts help to reduce the impact of lower wholesale revenues. The District will continue to pay down debt and is on track to meet its 2019 goal of a less than 35 percent debt ratio. Overall, the 2018 budget shows a positive bottom line of $71.5 million. The investment priorities for 2018 focus on increasing long-term value for customer-owners.
• Heard that the District is close to reaching 15,000 high-speed fiber customers. The goal is to reach the 15,000 customer mark by the end of the year. In an effort to achieve that goal, the District is offering an incentive for customers who sign up before Dec. 15. New customers signing up by Dec. 15 will entered into a drawing for a chance to win an iPad. Currently, the District has 14,821 customers;
• Welcomed iFiber as a “Triple Play” fiber service provider – meaning that they can provide Chelan County PUD customers with internet, phone and television services. iFiber has offices at 303 S. Mission in Wenatchee. They currently work with public utilities in seven Washington counties: Mason, Kitsap, Douglas, Grant, Franklin and Pend Oreille;
• Received the Third Quarter Financial update and Balance Scorecard results showing that the District is on track with overall revenue forecasts higher than budget due to colder weather earlier in 2017 driving up power use and increased revenues from its long-term “cost-plus” power contract charges. Operating expenses are also lower than budgeted contributing to the strong net revenue forecast for 2017;
• Approved moving forward with a $4 million contract increase to TCF Architects from Tacoma and a $1 million contract increase to RH2 Engineering of Wenatchee to move forward on the design of five new buildings and renovation of 19 existing buildings at Rock Island; and seven new buildings and renovation of 18 existing buildings at Rocky Reach. TCF and RH2 have been working with the District for more than 22 months on the strategic facilities planning effort. This expanded service agreement is for work at Rock Island and Rocky Reach only and does not include any construction activity.
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