The Okanogan County PUD has submitted the Pine Creek Fiber project for grant funding through the state Department of Commerce and National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) with a total project cost of $5.5 million for fiber to 300 homes.
Manager of Broadband Services John MacDonald presented the project at the July 12 meeting of the PUD commissioners, who approved the submission unanimously. The Pine Creek area (described in the photo) was one of many identified by local broadband action teams and is noted by the Federal Communications Commission as “unserved,” as well as having challenges with cellular or traditional phone lines. Nearly 500 poles are already needing replacement in that area, so the PUD would match up to 10% of the funding with in-kind make-ready work (upgrading infrastructure to get ready for fiber deployment) and by providing a project manager.
If the state accepts the project, it will be part of a number of projects the state will then submit to NTIA for funding. Without grant funding, the high expense of the project per customer (on average $17,000 per customer) would make it infeasible, MacDonald said. With grant funding, the only customer expense would be the charges from whichever retail service provider (RSP) they sign up with – several RSPs have already agreed to offer services in the area if fiber is built out.
MacDonald said customers in the Pine Creek area have approached the PUD many times for service, but because of the cost, have been unable to move forward. If this project could come to fruition, then it would be a great opportunity for businesses and homes in the area.
The state will announce which projects will move forward for consideration late this month. If funded, the project has a tentative construction timeframe of summer 2022.
In other business, the board:
- Heard from Director of Power Resources and Broadband Services Ron Gadeberg that June was an “unheard of month.” The heatwave affected wholesale power pricing so much that the PUD spent $718,847 on power in a month when it was expected to make money on wholesale sales instead. Power costs ranged from single digits to over $300 per megawatt. On the retail side, May came in over budget for revenue by about $435,000, and June is likely to be higher than budgeted as well.
- Heard an update on COVID-19 related policies, including the expected-to-be final extension of the moratorium on disconnections due to non-payment until Sept. 30. The board will also open its meetings to in-person public attendance as well as keep the Zoom option.
- Heard that steel poles for the rebuild of the Okanogan-Brewster transmission line had begun to arrive. Construction was set to begin on July 19.
- Learned that documentation had been submitted to FEMA for reimbursement on three disasters in 2020: January winter storm damage $85,522; Palmer Fire $45,253; and Cold Springs Fire $6,756,772.
- Approved the surplus of several failed pieces of equipment for the broadband department.
PHOTO CAPTION: A Google map shows the boundary (blue) of the Pine Creek Fiber project. Red lines indicate current electric infrastructure, which would also be the path of fiber.