Utility officials express faith in 2014 budget

— Okanogan County Public Utility District officials appeared confident in a workshop last week with how the proposed $61.7 million 2014 budget is looking.

“We know that we have enough money to everything we need to do on the O and M side, to keep the lights on – everything that faces us in a normal year, this budget accommodates that,” General Manager John Grubich said in the Oct. 15 meeting.

Grubich outlined the budget, which is estimating about $50.1 million in revenues, about $47.7 million for operations and debt service, and more than $11 million in reserves.

After expenditures, that leaves “almost $14 million after we take care of everything that we need to do,” Grubich said.

About $14.1 million is estimated for capital projects, but the utility’s preliminary budget shows that about $1.6 million will be transferred from reserves, and another $1.1 million from the rate stabilization fund. The rest will be covered by taking on more debt, Director of Finance, Accounting and Administration Don Coppock said.

Two major projects on the utility’s short list include continuing to look into reopening Enloe Dam near Oroville, as well as building a new transmission line from Pateros to Twisp.

The utility is “committed” to building the Pateros-to-Twisp transmission line, Grubich said, at a total cost of about $3.25 million, including rights of way.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission granted a 50-year license to the utility this year to operate Enloe Dam. Because of debates surrounding the cost of operation versus removal and the dam’s environmental impacts, both of which are cited in ongoing litigation with several conservation groups, no final decisions have been announced about proceeding.

In a public hearing last month, Grubich said the $5.4 million budgeted for that primarily has to do with costs surrounding the license.

Utility commissioners heard presentations from several department heads during the Oct. 15 workshop. The presentations outlined what each department does and their needs.

Engineering and Operations Director Tim DeVries said the utility is responsible for maintaining about 300 miles of power lines, more than 30,000 poles and about 14,000 miles of distribution lines.

Nearly 3,000 distribution lines are past the industry’s average replacement schedule of 38 years, according to his presentation. DeVries also suggested the utility replace four transmission lines and four substations that have passed their prime.

“Do we want to run the equipment to failure? I don’t think that’s prudent,” he said.

Commissioner Ernest Bolz said the utility should have replacements on hand when equipment fails.

There has been 40 percent growth in the number of distribution lines from 1985 to 2012, as well as 20 percent growth in the number of meters, from 17,135 to 20,749.

However, that doesn’t reflect the actual number of customers, which is about 15,000.

In the construction design department, Manager Allen Allie said the utility has been turning down load applications from customers, among them Gebbers Farms, that want to connect to the Brewster substation.

Allie recommended building a new, smaller substation in the Chicken Creek area, which is around the intersection of U.S. Highway 97 and state Highway 17.

A number of studies would need to be conducted by the utility and Bonneville Power Administration before a cost analysis is done, he said.

Another request is to rebuild the transmission line between Okanogan and Brewster.

Allie said the entire line needs to be replaced, but suggested smaller replacements over a period of time. He said he would like to look into re-routing the line through Malott.

“That’s been on the wish list for as long as I’ve been a commissioner,” Bolz said.

Operations Manager Mark Pritchard reviewed the utility’s fleet of 126 vehicles and equipment, noting that it has been a sticking point among some ratepayers over the years.

The utility spends an average of $64,158 per month on maintaining the fleet, including fuel, inspections, labor, tires and parts. The average age of the fleet is 10.12 years, with an average replacement rate of 8.69 years.

Two evening public hearings are scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Oct. 29 and Nov. 5 at the utility headquarters, 1331 N. Second Ave. More budget hearings are slated through the end of the year. Those meetings begin at 12:30 p.m. and are Oct. 29, Nov. 12, Nov. 19, Dec. 3, Dec. 10, Dec. 17 and Dec. 31.

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