Grays Harbor PUD customers experienced fewer power outages, interruptions and hours without power in 2018. A review of the utility system found that all three areas fell from 2017 totals and all were below the previous five-year average.
In 2018, PUD customers experienced 296 outages compared to 315 in 2017. That total was well below the five-year average of 400. The total number of customers out of power fell from over 73,000 in 2017 to 54,446, while the total number of impacted customer hours fell from over 264,000 to 198,483.
“This information lets us know what has been working and where we need to put more emphasis. When we budget for projects for the coming year these totals help point us to the spots that need our attention,” said PUD Commission President Russ Skolrood. “I’m very proud that our crews and engineers have built and are maintaining a system that is standing up to the heavy weather and environment we experience on the Washington coast.’
Tree and branch falls and storm related issues were the cause of 62% of the 2018 outages, a common culprit of Grays Harbor power interruptions over the years. Major storm events in December of 2018 accounted for well over half of the impacted customer hours, however an aggressive vegetation management program is credited with helping reduce those totals.
“Staying ahead of tree and plant growth is so important to our system reliability,” said General Manager Dave Ward. “Without the recurring cycle of tree trimming, removal and mowing, these outage numbers would be rising rather than falling. Our crews and contract tree crews have done a great job of staying on top of the tree growth that boarder our power lines.”
In addition to trees and storms, car versus pole collisions accounted for 16% of the total outages in 2018, while outages caused by equipment or mechanical failure came in at just 12%.
Improving financial conditions and a colder winter will allow the Grays Harbor PUD to implement a smaller than expected rate increase in 2019. On Monday, the PUD Commissioners voted to adopt a 2.25% increase in customer rates, effective May 1st. The commissioners had originally set a 2.5% increase, effective April 1st when they passed the 2019 budget last November.
“Not only were we able to delay the increase by one month, but for the second straight year, we were able to approve a smaller increase than we had budgeted for,” said Commission President Russ Skolrood. “Waiting until the spring avoids increasing rates during cold weather, high energy usage months and it allows the utility time to assess its financial state and have a better idea of what size the increase needs to be.”
Under the new rate schedule an average customer bill, using 1200-kilowatt hours per month, will see an increase of $2.67. The commissioners pointed to rising power costs of over a half-million dollars and a projected rate increase by the Bonneville Power Administration of 2.9% in the fall as the main reason for the increase.
“We know that when rates go up, it has a big impact on our customers,” said Skolrood. “Times are hard and every dollar counts. That is why our staff has worked to contain and control internal costs and we have worked with our partners at Bonneville, and in Olympia and Washington DC to keep power costs as low as they can practically be.”
Grays Harbor PUD telecom and line crews have worked together to hang over 30,000 feet of utility fiber cable running from Elma to the Shouweiller Road, a crucial step toward the completion of the East County Fiber Project. When completed the line will provide the backbone of a state funded stretch of telecommunications line that will improve fiber optic cable connections to the Elma and Satsop School Districts, the Schouweiller industrial park and local homes and businesses.
The project was funded by $463-thousand dollars of the state’s 2017-19 Capital Budget, approved by the state legislature in January of last year. In addition, to the East County project, legislators have been debating and fine tuning other legislation designed to expand and improve internet services in rural Washington.
A review by the Washington State Auditor’s office has found the Grays Harbor PUD to be in compliance with the mandated standards of the Energy Independence Act. Passed in 2006 as Initiative 937, the act requires utilities with 25,000 or more customers to receive nine percent of its energy supply from renewable sources like solar, wind or bio-mass generations. A review of the 2016 and 2017 totals found the utility achieved those goals with 80,918 MWh in 2016 and 80,273 MWh in 2017 from various wind projects, including the Coastal Energy Wind Project in Grayland.
The Auditor’s review also found the PUD to be in compliance with energy conservation standards set out in the EIA. Reviewing the period from January 2016 to December 2017, the audit found the PUD met the conservation target of 6,482 megawatt-hours.
In preparation for this outage, customers are advised to take precautions with any electronic equipment such as computers, televisions, and microwaves by unplugging those items. You should leave them disconnected until after the power has been fully restored.
The outage time of 3 hours is only an estimate and power could be restored at anytime as work is completed. Therefore, it is not safe to do electrical work or repairs during that period of time.