Grant County PUD approves 2018 budget

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EPHRATA ó The budget for the Grant County PUD was set at $274.27 million for 2018, an increase of about $10.5 million from the preliminary budget presented in October. Utility district commissioners approved the budget at the regular commission meeting Tuesday.

The budget projects the utility will finish 2018 with about $57.37 million in excess of expenses. Expenses are projected to be about $33 million less than 2017, said Ryan Holterhoff, PUD public information specialist.

The 2018 budget includes a 2 percent overall rate increase. The actual rates charged to the different customer classes may be more or less than 2 percent.

The specific rates are not part of the budget passed Tuesday. Rates are a separate discussion, scheduled for the winter and spring.

The budget includes $88.86 million for upgrades at Priest Rapids and Wanapum dams. The PUD is a little over halfway through a two-decade project to upgrade turbines and generators at its facilities.

Thereís $50.70 million budgeted for improvements to the electrical generation system. That includes projects to upgrade services at Wheeler Road and near Warden, and in the Mt. View area near Quincy. About $2 million was allocated for repairs and replacing equipment at an Ephrata substation damaged last winter.

About $4.8 million was allocated for the replacement of all electrical meters; 2018 is the first year of a two-year project. Utility district officials are working on an seismic analysis of the riverbanks at Wanapum and Priest Rapids, and will have to fix any weaknesses discovered. About $6 million was allocated for that project in 2018.

The budget allocates $110.8 million for operations and maintenance, which includes some supplies and most employee salaries. Thatís an increase of about $1.1 million from the 2017 budget projection.

The PUD will pay about $93.3 million for debt service. Those are the payments made to pay back money the PUD has borrowed. The turbine and generator upgrades at Wanapum Dam are almost complete, but 2018 is the second year of a projected 10-year upgrade at Priest Rapids Dam. Itís expensive to upgrade hydropower projects Ė currently the PUDís total debt is about $1.35 billion.

After a year of research, analysis and discussion, the commissioners opted to continue the expansion of the districtís fiber system, and to allocate about $7 million from the districtís savings to pay for the first year.

The fiber system reaches about 70 percent of the PUDís customers, and the discussion has centered around how to reach the remaining 30 percent, with is mostly in rural areas that are difficult and expensive to reach. The criteria for expansion is still to be determined.

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

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