Okanogan County PUD commissioners approved an increase to customer base charges in order to fund critical projects for the area’s power grid.
The increase will bring in about $700,000 to fund the debt services on a $10 million bond to fund capital projects. Two of the major projects highlighted were the transmission line from Okanogan to Brewster, which is 66 years old and needs upgrades to carry more low-cost power from Wells Dam. The second was a rebuild of the Tonasket substation and addition of a power transformer. Currently, the Tonasket substation is near capacity, and if it were to fail, Tonasket – including the hospital and schools – would be out of power.
Commissioners discussed their concerns about raising any rates, along with Okanogan citizen Wade Pinson, who challenged them to be sure to use finances wisely in deciding what expenses are truly necessary.
Commissioners expressed their desire to be proactive in maintenance of the power system to keep the lights on and serve ratepayers of the county, and not to wait until maintenance falls behind or catastrophic failures occur.
The increase affects all customer base charges, such as a $2.81 addition to the monthly base charge for residential. Commissioners and staff hoped the flat increase would be more easily absorbed than a kilowatt-hour rate increase, which often affects the most vulnerable populations the most.
More details can be found in the revenue increase PDF.
In other business, the board heard from Director of Power Resources and Broadband Services Ron Gadeberg that February’s cold temperatures led to $940,000 in net purchases of power for the district. Typically, February is much milder and the district expects to be selling power overall, not buying.
To add to that, the first few days of March were also “brutally cold,” resulting in a spike in power costs that Gadeberg said he hasn’t seen in his time at the PUD, and which hasn’t struck since about 2000. Costs peaked at around $1,000 per megawatt, which cost the district $700,000 in just two days.
Gadeberg said he hopes that some of the losses can be made up throughout the rest of the year, as has been the case in the past, but there are no certainties when it comes to Mother Nature.