Going back to 1936
The Pend Oreille PUD is a municipal corporation that was organized in 1936 pursuant to Title 54 of the Revised Code of Washington. By law, the PUD’s primary purpose is to furnish certain utility services, on a non-profit basis, to its customers within the County. As such, all costs incurred in the acquisition, maintenance, delivery and administration of furnishing said services must be, and can only be, recovered from the billings to its customers. The PUD is governed by three locally elected commissioners who serve six year staggered terms—currently Curt Knapp, Rick Larson and Joe Onley. A General Manager is appointed to provide administrative direction to the PUD—currently Colin Willenbrock. The PUD’s headquarters is in Newport and it currently has 91 total employees.
The PUD’s operations consist of a Production System, Electric System, Community Network System and nine community water systems. Each system maintains separate records and is financed separately. The Box Canyon Production System produces hydroelectric power from the Box Canyon Project and the output is sold at cost to the Electric System. The PUD owns and operates the run-of-the-river dam (one that can operate only when there is sufficient water flow in the Pend Oreille River) which was built in 1950. The electricity produced by Box is an asset of the PUD. The Production system also includes the Sullivan Creek Project, the Calispell Powerhouse, Power Lake Dam, Calispell Pumping Station, and a series of pumps and gates along the railroad embankment.
A regulatory affairs and natural resources department is responsible for all mitigation requirements of the respective projects including water quality, fish and wildlife, erosion, and stream restoration. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, the PUD started the process of obtaining a new license from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission ("FERC") for Box. The renewal process was complicated, protracted, and contentious. FERC issued the new 50-year license in 2005. However, as a condition of the new license, FERC imposed several obligations on the PUD that required the PUD to upgrade Box and make other changes to the hydroelectric project. Specifically, the FERC license (and the Settlement Agreement) provided that the PUD would replace the four existing turbines with fish friendly turbines and make other upgrades to Box (including four fish passage facilities and other mitigation work). The debt financed cost of these upgrades has been passed on to Ponderay Newsprint Compnay (“PNC”) through the terms of the Contracts, thereby making the power from Box more expensive than the current market.
The Electric System distributes electricity to residential, commercial and industrial consumers in the County. The PUD currently has 8,349 residential electric customers, 842 commercial electric customers and 9 industrial electric customers. The PUD’s current residential rate of $0.0511 cents/kWh ranks among the lowest in the Country. The largest industrial customer is PNC located in Usk, Washington.
A power supply department actively manages the PUD’s complex power portfolio in real time and on a forward basis. In addition to Box generations, the PUD has a long-term assignment agreement to purchase power from Seattle City Light’s Boundary Dam (“Boundary”) essentially at the production cost, a price that is currently well below market rates. The PUD also has a contract to purchase power from the Bonneville Power Administration (“BPA”) which is delivered on a contract rate established every two years. The BPA contract expires in 2028. The BPA contract is complex and is predicated on the PUD reporting its intended call for power and sticking to such, or facing substantial financial penalties. In addition, when necessary due to exhaustion of Box, Boundary, and BPA power, the PUD purchases power from the open market ("Market'") to balance its customers’ hourly needs.
The Community Network System provides wholesale broadband telecommunication utility services for the benefit of the County’s residents. The PUD currently has 2,051 broadband end users and 106 wireless end users. The Water System consists of nine individual water distribution systems combined into a single division for financial reporting purposes—the largest of which is the Metaline Falls Water System, which serves the Metaline Falls geographical area. In total, the PUD currently serves over 550 water customers.
The PUD also manages a variety of other programs to help customers. The Energy Efficiency or “conservation” program includes rebates for Ductless Heat Pumps and clothes washers. Since the program started in 1992 the PUD has completed over a dozen successful commercial energy conservation projects for different community members like PNC, Selkirk High School and the Washington State Department of Transportation. The Neighbors in Need Program provides emergency energy assistance grants to households in the County who need help getting back on their feet following unexpected emergencies or hardships. This program is funded solely from donations. The donations come from community members, employees and different fundraisers.
The PUD is actively engaged in a variety of local and industry groups who monitor the ever-changing landscape of the utility industry. The PUD strives to keep rates low and service reliable in order to attract and entice new economic development. It holds active local memberships with the Economic Development Council, Newport and Metaline Falls Chambers of Commerce, Newport/Oldtown Rotary Club, the Historic Society, and many others. PUD employees are regular volunteers in local events like the rodeo and fair and regularly coach in the various sporting leagues. The PUD offers a summer student internship program, community truck wash fundraisers, and educational programs.