PUD Plans for the Future
Since its founding as a consumer-owned utility in 1939, Northern Wasco County People’s Utility District has served the community with reliable electricity at low rates, excellent customer service, and an ethic of serving the community’s needs.
In a special session April 1, 2020, the PUD’s board of directors voted to postpone the 3.8% rate increase scheduled to take place the following month.
The board had already supported staff’s decision to suspend service disconnects for nonpayment and nonassessment of late charges for the duration of the COVID-19 pandemic. Staff’s proposal to postpone the rate increase included a pledge to reassess the capital reinvestment plan and operational budget to support the delay. Capital projects were rescheduled, budgeted positions left vacant, and other expenses delayed or reduced.
To further assist customers, the customer service team began reviewing accounts for early credit of new service deposits. The board repurposed annual economic development grant money to help small businesses with pandemic assistance on their power bills.
Lastly, the PUD rolled out an easy way for people to donate a small amount each month to Neighbor to Neighbor, the district’s community assistance funding program. By rounding up their bill to the next dollar each month, the “round up” amount helps community members with their power bills.
In 2021, the PUD’s ongoing mission is to provide reliable, competitively priced energy and related services that benefit customers in the tradition of public power. The district’s strategic plan is reflected in the 2021 budget and long-term financial plan through:
- Technology enhancements
- Employee development
- Reinvestment in asset infrastructure
- Ramping up conservation work from the 2020 forecast
- Financial resilience
Each of these areas is critical to the district’s operations.
The PUD continues to upgrade and modernize the community’s electric grid. Although much has been completed, such as the Tygh Valley Substation rebuild, there is more work to be done.
Emergency response is also on the top 10 list. The grid and IT improvements made the past few years allowed the district to act during the pandemic and support customers, but there is more work to be done to be prepared for any low likelihood, high consequence, or “black swan” event. This work is also critical to providing reliable energy to customers.
Financial resilience allows the district to respond to critical events. The PUD’s long-term financial plan includes adequate reserves for emergencies.
A cost-of-service analysis was completed to guide rate decisions for 2021 and 2022. Postponement of the 2020 rate increase was part of this analysis.
Based on the study, staff recommended an overall 3.8% rate increase, which includes a $1 a month facilities (fixed) charge increase. This increase is necessary to adequately fund district financial reserves, support funding for needed capital reinvestment projects, and ease overall debt-pressure on future rates.
With the board’s approval given during the December meeting, the rate increase will go into effect May 1, 2021. For an average home using 1,000 kilowatt-hours a month, this will be an increase of around $2.81 a month.
As shown in the graphs, the district’s rates are some of the lowest in Oregon, and are significantly lower than state and national averages. With just three rate increases in six years, the PUD has held its average to just below the rate of inflation during the same time. This is due to the hard work and strong fiscal responsibility of the staff, as well as the good fortune of a growing electric service system.
The largest expense to the PUD’s electric utility is the cost of the energy from its primary supplier, the Bonneville Power Administration. Those costs have continued to increase. The PUD continues to try to mitigate that through advocacy and various regional associations on customers’ behalf.
The various ratios and performance indicators communicated here are available for consumers’ analysis and consideration at board of directors’ meetings and at our website.
Policies, rates, detailed budgets, audited financial statements, and board of directors’ meetings minutes and presentations for multiple years are all available for review.
Staff is available to help interpret the in if needed. Call (541) 296-2226 for more information.