Just weeks after receiving first place safety honors for the second year in a row from the American Public Power Association in April, PUD 1 received the same top recognition again from the Northwest Public Power Association (NWPPA), bringing the utility’s total to four first place safety awards in the last 24 months. Darin Hall, PUD 1’s director of operations, reported the good news to the board of commissioners, stating, “To win four first place safety awards in two years says a lot about our focus on continuous improvement and the efforts we have put into our safety program.”

NWPPA’s safety contest awards are based upon a review of each utility’s safety report, as defined by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), which reports the number of recordable injury/illness cases and the lost work days in 2019. Mason PUD 1 tied with WASCO Electric Cooperative in Oregon and Grant County PUD in Washington for first place in the category of “0-40,000 Hours of Exposure”.

Hall also praised his operations employees at the commission meeting. “This award was earned by everyone here at our utility, but I am especially proud of the focus that the line and water crews have put into safer working practices. They work in really dangerous situations, and in past years we had some minor, mostly avoidable accidents before we really stepped up our program. The crews are taking safety seriously and we are seeing that effort pay off,” stated Hall.

The American Water Works Association’s Pacific Northwest Section presented Mason County PUD No. 1 with four of the Association’s “Excellence in Communications” awards in 2020, for communications campaigns that were rolled out in 2019. The honors were bestowed in the categories of:

  • Electronic Communications for the PUD’s social media platforms
  • Internal Communications for the PUD’s “2019 Strategic Work Plan”
  • Strategic Communications for the PUD’s “Cross Connection Control” campaign, and
  • Wild Card for the PUD’s “New Customer Onboarding” campaign.
Pictured: Mary Bechtolt, PUD 1 water engineering GIS technician & Brandy Milroy, PUD 1 water resource coordinator.

Pictured: Mary Bechtolt, PUD 1 water engineering GIS technician & Brandy Milroy, PUD 1 water resource coordinator.

Kristin Masteller, PUD 1’s general manager, was originally scheduled to present on the winning communications at the AWWA-PNS annual conference in Spokane this month, but the event was cancelled due to COVID-19 restrictions. Instead, Masteller shared the news at the PUD 1 board of commissioners meeting, recognizing the efforts of staff, specifically water department employees Mary Bechtolt and Brandy Milroy.

“Our employees are really our best communication assets, and while these awards reflect the work of everyone on our team, it was really our water resource coordinator, Brandy Milroy, and our water engineering technician, Mary Bechtolt, that fine-tuned the communications in our water department”, Masteller said. “Our water techs and customer service representatives relay information back and forth, but Mary and Brandy are the two that coordinate and lead these efforts and they really deserve the bulk of this recognition.”

The Pacific Northwest Section of the American Water Works Association was founded in 1927 and provides leadership to drinking water professionals in Idaho, Oregon, and Washington. PNWS is governed by its 3,000 members and its programs are carried out by hundreds of member volunteers, assisted by staff located in Vancouver, Washington.

WASHINGTON, D.C.– For the second consecutive year, Mason County PUD No. 1 has earned the American Public Power Association’s Safety Award of Excellence for safe operating practices. The utility earned another first place award in the category for utilities with 30,000-59,000 worker-hours of annual worker exposure. Brandon Wylie, chair of the APPA’s Safety Committee, presented the award during the Association’s annual Engineering & Operations Technical Conference, held in Kansas City, Missouri. “Strong safety programs are essential to ensuring that electric utility employees are informed and trained on safe work procedures,” said Wylie. “The utilities receiving this award have proven that protecting the safety of their employees is a top priority.”

More than 335 utilities entered the annual Safety Awards contest, which is the highest number of entrants in the history of the program. Entrants were placed in categories according to their number of worker-hours and ranked based on the most incident-free records during 2019. The incidence rate, used to judge entries, is based on the number of work-related reportable injuries or illnesses and the number of worker-hours during 2019, as defined by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).

“We are very proud of our safety record, which is a direct carryover of our continuous-improvement safety culture,” said Kristin Masteller, general manager of Mason PUD 1. “This award reflects the leadership from our operations director and foremen, our safety training program, and the hard work that goes into ensuring that our team members go home safe to their families every day.”

The Safety Awards have been held annually for the last 60 years. The American Public Power Association is the voice of not-for-profit, community-owned utilities that power 2,000 towns and cities nationwide.

Mason County PUD No. 1 received notice from the Washington State Department of Health that five capital water projects submitted by the PUD in November of 2019 were chosen for Drinking Water State Revolving Fund (DWSRF) loans, totaling nearly $600,000. Three of these projects qualified for a 100% loan forgiveness subsidy, including the Bay East water system manganese treatment project at $88,559, the Lake Arrowhead water system manganese treatment project at $304,500, and also the Lake Arrowhead mainline replacement project at $162,019.

 

The subsidy qualification means that rather than enter into a loan contract where the funds would be repaid over time through the PUD’s budget and rates, the $555,078 in revolving fund loans are considered grants and no repayment is required. To put the impact of this dollar amount into perspective, the District’s entire capital budget for water projects is $500,000 annually. The grant funds will allow the PUD to accomplish these projects on the 10-year capital work plan much sooner and without impacting future water rates or the annual budget.

 

“PUD staff put in a tremendous amount of time and effort to identify projects in our construction work plan that would qualify for funding. The board has made it a strategic plan goal for us to vigorously pursue low cost financing options. While improvements and upgrades to our water systems are important and necessary, these projects are also costly,” stated Kristin Masteller, PUD 1’s general manager. “We want to thank the Washington State Department of Health and Washington PUD Association for advocating for SRF funds through the state legislature to repair and maintain our state’s aging water infrastructure. Thank you also to the DWSRF team for choosing Mason PUD 1 to receive a portion of these funds so we can continue to deliver safe, reliable drinking water in Mason County.”

 

The PUD decided to decline the two remaining projects that were chosen for low interest loans. Overseeing three new public works projects in 2020, in addition to the PUD’s regular capital projects will keep the water department busy for the next 18 months. PUD staff plans to assemble a new list of project applications to submit in Fall of 2020.

Potlatch, WA- In response to customer interest, Mason County PUD No. 1 is rolling out a second community solar project. Community Solar II, will be approximately 55 kilowatts in size and sited atop the PUD’s new vehicle storage warehouse that is starting construction this winter and scheduled to be completed in April. PUD 1 electric customers have the option to purchase up to 100 units of the project at $100 per unit, until all 965 units are subscribed. The PUD also received a generous $50,000 grant from Bonneville Environmental Foundation (BEF), along with BEF’s free project management services. The grant funds purchased 500 additional units that are set aside for qualifying low-income electric customers.

 

“Bonneville Environmental Foundation has been a critical partner for both of our community solar projects. They’ve guided us through every step from siting the arrays, to scoping the projects and reviewing bids”, said Kristin Masteller, PUD 1’s general manager. “Now they’ve assisted us even further with this grant which allows us to open the project to customers who likely wouldn’t be able to participate otherwise. These customers will receive a new type of energy assistance that we haven’t been able to provide before. This low-income program we’ve developed with BEF is really creative and we’re excited to roll it out in 2020.”

 

PUD 1 electric customers have until February 28, 2020 to register online. Customers who want to register for the low-income portion of the project, must make an in-person registration appointment with the solar project manager, Julie Gray, to get prequalified. In March, registered participants for both portions of the project will be selected by randomized drawing to determine who has first opportunity to participate. The project is slated to be commissioned in April of 2020.

 

“The newest state incentive rebate that runs through 2028 is much lower this time around” stated Julie Gray. “The total payback period on our 2016 project was less than four years, not including any federal tax benefits. This project is looking at 15-18 years for a return on investment, without considering any federal tax incentives which may help shorten the payback period. Regardless, our customers have continued to ask us to do another project, so we listened. We’re pleased to be able to provide this opportunity to our customers and we hope that we are able to fully subscribe our project in March.”

 

The online registration and other participant information, including a project “Frequently Asked Questions” sheet, are available on PUD 1’s solar website at solar.mason-pud1.org.

At the annual Northwest Communications & Energy Innovations Conference (NIC) in Marysville last week, Mason County PUD No. 1 was honored with three first place plaques and two second place nods at the Excellence in Communications contest, hosted by the Northwest Public Power Association. PUD 1 was recognized in the Group A (10,000 customers or less) category for their social media campaign, a special publication for water conservation, their new customer packets for their 2018 water systems acquisition, as well as The Connector newsletter and their strategic work plan. (Pictured right, Julie Gray (left) & Kristin Masteller)

“Our employees have really become our best communication assets. They help develop our messaging and have really stepped up, both in the office and out in the field, to consistently improve the way we communicate with our customers”, said Kristin Masteller, PUD 1’s general manager. “I especially want to thank Julie Gray for her work on our website and especially on our social media platforms, which earned a perfect score from the judges.”

The Excellence in Communication contest, which recognizes the top communication efforts from Northwest Public Power Association member utilities and associations, turned 26 years old this year and celebrated

another record-breaking year with 257 entries.

Mason County PUD No. 1’s board of commissioners passed a resolution recently in support of the federal Columbia River Power System and the four lower Snake River dams. The reason for this is that our utility, along with the region’s public power community at large, realize that the lower Snake River and Columbia River dams must stay in service if our region wants to ensure that we have reliable baseload energy to power our communities during the winter and during peak energy times, and to ensure that power rates are affordable for residents.

We know that customers might be tired of hearing us beat the hydropower drum, but we do it out of a sense of urgency. Our state has set a clean energy rule that we have to achieve by 2045. We need hydropower to achieve it. Our state has also earmarked money for a task force to study the impacts of the removal of the lower Snake River dams. Achieving a 100% clean energy standard cannot happen without the dams and removing the dams will not single-handedly save our salmon and orcas. We must have a strategic, multi-pronged approach for both of those goals.

HYDRO IS OUR CARBON FREE BACKBONE

The lower Snake River dams produce over 3,000 megawatts of carbon free power, with the entire Federal Columbia River Power System (FCRPS) amounting to the largest source of clean, renewable electricity in the Pacific Northwest. Without this hydro-powered backbone on our energy grid, our region would experience near-constant brownouts and blackouts when the sun isn’t shining and the wind isn’t blowing, and when the west coast is at peak demand for energy consumption. The loss of hydropower negates any efforts to achieve a carbon-free portfolio in Washington State by 2045.

WE CAN’T AFFORD THE ALTERNATIVES

The region would need to compensate for the lack of hydropower baseload with other baseload-capable energy sources like coal and gas fired power plants and nuclear, the first two being high carbon emitters. Bonneville Power Administration (BPA) estimates the loss of hydropower generated by the four lower Snake River dams alone would increase power costs by $274 – $372 million each year, with those costs being borne by customers of the BPA, such as Mason PUD No. 1 customers. Additionally, the increase in CO2 emissions from the loss of the clean hydropower will result in up to 2.6 million metric tons released into our atmosphere every single year moving forward.

The fallout costs continue to climb for the lack of shipping and transportation that the FCRPS provides, the loss of irrigation for our northwest farming communities, rebuilding and reinforcing transmission systems, the loss in revenues to support fish and wildlife, and the overwhelming expense of trying to build out enough solar and wind generation to fill the energy gap, which would escalate into the billions of dollars.

WE NEED THE CONTINUED INVESTMENT IN FISH AND WILDLIFE HABITAT

BPA also estimates that it will cost between $1.3 and 2.6 billion to breach the four lower Snake River dams. These are tremendous amounts of federal funds that could be used to achieve better outcomes for fish and wildlife through other means like funding culvert replacements, saltwater habitat restoration projects in the Puget Sound and Pacific Ocean, stream habitat restoration, etc. BPA also reports that the dams are “on track to achieve standards of 96 percent average dam survival for young spring chinook and steelhead migrating downstream, and 93 percent for young summer migrating fish”. This is largely due to the $900 million that is invested annually by Pacific Northwest public power ratepayers through their power bills. Roughly 25% of every dollar is spent toward fish and wildlife habitat restoration at the FCRPS dams. Fish and orca survival will depend on the coordination of multiple factors in addition to fish passage at dams. We need to clean up our waterways and coast lines, we need to curb the aquatic noise from water traffic that is scattering the orca’s food sources and disrupting their feeding. We need to penalize polluters both in the U.S. and in Canada who dump raw sewage and pollutants into our water. We need to do more to protect salmon from the explosion in population of natural predators and overharvesting by humans. Again, it will take a multitude of coordinated activities to get where we need to be.

PUBLIC DOLLARS SHOULD BE SPENT IN AN IMPACTFUL WAY

Responsible management of the federal hydro system needs to be one component of the solution to ensuring fish runs are successful and the food chain is stable. Removing the dams makes for a good slogan on a t-shirt, but it does not make good economic, environmental or energy sense. It is counterproductive to the strides made in energy and environmental policy on both a state and federal level. Our region cannot sustain the environmental and economic losses of the removal of the dams. While the examination of dam removal for facilities that have outlived their useful life continues to be a viable environmental strategy, the use of public tax dollars to fund a task force and study for the dismantling of our federal hydro system is a waste. Those monies could be applied toward real, viable solutions that look at a comprehensive solution for ensuring the longevity of our salmon, orcas and wildlife habitat.

Our commission meets the 2ndand 4thTuesdays of the month at 1:00 p.m. at the PUD 1 office in Potlatch. If you want more information on the PUD’s position on hydropower, you’re always welcome to attend and discuss. If anyone would like more information on the statistics that we have cited, please visit Northwest River Partner’s website and click on their “Data & Resources” tab.

 

Mason County PUD No. 1 Board of Commissioners

Ron Gold, President

Mike Sheetz, Vice President

Jack Janda, Secretary

 

 

T.J. GoosAt the April 23, 2019 board of commissioners meeting, Mason County PUD No. 1’s lead water system operator TJ Goos was presented with a plaque inscribed “2018 Water Operator of the Year” by Evergreen Rural Water of Washington (ERWoW). Goos was surprised with the announcement of his award at the ERWoW annual conference in Yakima earlier this spring. The plaque and presentation before the PUD 1 board of commissioners made it official.

 

Tracey Hunter, executive director for ERWoW, (pictured with Goos) cited several reasons Goos was chosen for the honor, including his leadership under pressure when one of the District’s systems encountered a bad routine sample that required substantial reservoir repairs and coordination between state agencies, the PUD, and customers. She also mentioned Goos’ efforts to help the District research and onboard 32 new water systems last July which increased its customer base by about 30%.

 

“TJ’s leadership has really shined in both emergency situations and ongoing daily operations over the last 18 months. He’s very deserving of this award and Evergreen Rural Water has been a great partner and resource to the PUD”, stated general manager Kristin Masteller. “We’re incredibly proud of the work he has done for the utility on behalf of our ratepayers.”

 

Founded in 1994, ERWoW provides training and technical assistance to water and wastewater systems throughout the state to provide help in solving rural water problems. Their headquarters is located in Shelton, Washington.

March 2018-

“Spill” is quite literally the water that is spilled through massive gates that are raised at our federal hydropower dams. The spill is designed to help young salmon migrate quicker and easier downstream from the rivers to the ocean. Due to a ruling after two decades of litigation from fish advocates, Judge Simon from the Oregon U.S. District Court ruled for additional spills this year at eight large dams from April through mid-June. This will hit all of us Northwest ratepayers right in our wallets through our electric bills. Read more

March 2017-

PUD 1 receives its power from Bonneville Power Administration (BPA) which runs the hydroelectric system in the Northwest. Back in the mid-1990’s the federal government passed a new energy bill which gave some of the benefits of the hydro system back to investor-owned utilities (IOUs) like Puget Sound Energy. The IOUs complained that preference customers, like Mason PUD 1, that received their power from the federal hydro system have more benefits of the system than IOUs did. Their argument was that federal money was used to build the system so all tax payers should benefit from it. As a result, $50 million a year was given to IOUs to level the playing field. Today, that number is about $250 million per year.

We (public power) protested this and we went to court over it. Read more