Chelan County PUD commissioners on Monday unanimously voted to delay for six months the adopted rate increase that was scheduled to go into effect on June 1.
The action means residential electric, water and wastewater rates stay the same until Dec. 1, 2020. The wholesale fiber rate increase also is postponed for six months. (At 02:48 on the board meeting audio recording.)
The PUD also extended no shutoffs of utility service and waiving late fees through the end of July 2020.
Customers facing financial setbacks are encouraged to call the PUD to make payment arrangements. Residential customers also can apply with Community Action for help from federal aid. PUD Helping Hand funds from customer donations also can help individuals, said John Stoll, Customer Utilities managing director.
Staff members reported that a large number of individuals and small businesses are suffering economic harm as a result of COVID-19. State and federal aid is on the way, but response may take time due to high demand, said Andrew Grassell, energy development and conservation manager. (00:48)
The PUD’s policy of no cutoffs or late fees should help people who are waiting for the federal assistance to arrive.
The PUD is considering whether to expand assistance for individuals. The Helping Hand account for residential customers is well-funded, but more funds may be needed, or the PUD may need to set up an alternative account using District funds. The PUD also is considering whether to initiate a financial assistance program for commercial businesses.
“We have a long road ahead of us and talking about what we can do as a utility in Chelan County to work with customer-owners in the best way we can,” said Commissioner Randy Smith.
Board members agreed that potential actions should focus on making an impactful and meaningful difference to community members in need while ensuring fair access across the county. New programs must be within the PUD’s legal authority, maintain a commitment to the adopted financial metrics and be implemented at a time that makes a difference they said.
Commissioners encouraged further exploration of:
- A program to support small business impacted by COVID-19
- Increasing the Helping Hand program scope, or developing a new program to help more individuals facing hardships from COVID-19
“I think we’re moving in the right direction,” said Commissioner Dennis Bolz. “Ultimately, we want to identify the nexus of what we’re allowed to do with what we need to do.”
Senior managers also reported on key projects that may not get done due to the COVID-19 response. Among those are developing technology roadmaps called for in the strategic plan and increasing hydro system reliability by returning more units to service. (01:50)
Work in dam powerhouses is four to six weeks behind schedule, said Kirk Hudson, Generation and Transmission managing director. The technology roadmap project is delayed because it involves staff across the District, who are now responding to pandemic issues, said Kelly Boyd, chief financial/risk officer.
Public Power Benefit fiber expansion also is paused as crews focus on keeping the core network running to meet increased use as many customers work from home and students must do schoolwork online, said Mike Coleman, Fiber and Telecom managing director.
Senior managers noted that with many PUD employees working at home or on staggered shifts there is an impact on productivity even as employees keep essential utility services available and reliable.
In a related report, commissioners heard that power use in the county has declined up to 12 percent since early March when the governor put the “stay home/stay healthy” order in place. (00:08)
In other business, commissioners:
- Heard that financial markets have stabilized, offering the opportunity to secure savings on financing costs by issuing low-cost bonds as authorized by commissioners on March 30. Heather Irelan, lead treasury analyst reported that the PUD’s strong finances earned the new issue AA+ ratings from both S&P and Fitch. Chelan PUD is one of the top-rated customer-owned utilities in the nation. Local residents interested in purchasing bonds can find details on the Finance page of the PUD’s website. (00:33)
- Received an update on permits needed for construction of the new Service Center in Olds Station. Dan Frazier, District Services director, also showed concept drawings for possible trail connections, Wenatchee River access and an interpretive site nearby. (03:25)
- Rescheduled the board workshop to 9 a.m. on May 13 at Confluence Technology Center, 285 Technology Way. (03:45)
- April 27 - Commission meeting, 10 a.m., PUD boardroom
- May 11 – Commission meeting, 10 a.m., PUD boardroom
- May 13 – Board workshop, 9 a.m., Confluence Technology Center
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The next regular PUD commission meeting is at 10 a.m. on Monday, April 27, in the boardroom at 327 N. Wenatchee Ave.
Chelan PUD records most commission meetings, and a link to the audio is available on the PUD’s home page at www.chelanpud.org. Find us at Facebook.com/ChelanPUD and follow us on Twitter @ChelanPUD.
Here for you, providing the best for the most for the longest – chelanpud.org