Low electrical rates generate flood of inquiries

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MOSES LAKE — It’s not a gold rush – gold rushes are kind of 19th Century – but there are a lot of people interested in possibly opening businesses in Grant County. Growth has its upside, but this growth spurt is causing complications for the Grant County PUD.

As of Wednesday the PUD had received 61 inquiries from individuals and companies that qualify for rate class 7, companies interested in setting up shop in Grant County. Class 7 is the focus of a lot of interest, but there have been inquiries from potential customers in other rate classes, said Shane Lunderville, the PUD’s business development manager.

Supplying power to customers currently inquiring would use up Grant County PUD’s available electricity, Lunderville said, “and more.” The current inquiries would use about 1,200 kilowatts, “and it grows weekly.”

There are so many inquiries, he said, that it would be impossible to process them all at once. All that activity is causing delays – projects that started in March 2017 are just finishing up.

“They (potential customers) look and say, ‘where are the data centers going?’” Well, Grant County PUD customers benefit from low electrical rates. So one factor is “definitely the low rates. Which is why a lot of the data centers are here too.”

A lot of the activity, especially in class 7, is from people interested in cashing in on the current interest in cryptocurrency, which use a technology called blockchain. Lunderville said the blockchain is the operating system, and the cryptocurrencies, of which Bitcoin is an example, are the apps.

Bitcoin gets a lot of attention due to the spectacular rise in the price of its stock, but Lunderville said the PUD started getting inquiries before the stock took off. About 73 percent of the companies making inquiries in class 7 are cryptocurrency companies, he said.

Given the flood of customer inquiries, PUD officials are taking a step back. “We do not understand the volatility of the market,” Lunderville said, how many of those companies might still be in business in a few years. In addition, cryptocurrency transactions suck up a lot of electricity.

Residential, commercial (class 2) and irrigation projects are still going on. Inquiries still are being accepted for customers in class 7 and bigger. What happens next will depend on the results of three studies currently underway. One is looking at the cost of building new transmission lines, if needed, while the second is looking at ways to assess facility construction costs. The third is rates, and the possible need for a revamped rate structure.

The transmission and facility construction costs studies are scheduled for completion by midyear, Lunderville said, while the rate study should be done by year’s end.

Cheryl Schweizer can be reached via email at education@columbiabasinherald.com.

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