Continuing its focus on community partnerships and clean energy projects, Mason County PUD No. 1 has received a grant from Bonneville Environmental Foundation (BEF) of just over $23,000 to partner with the Skokomish Indian Tribe on the installation of zero emission vehicle (ZEV) chargers at the Lucky Dog Casino. The PUD and Tribe were selected for the grant because their proposal met two of the Zero Emissions Vehicle Innovation Program’s funding priorities: developing electric vehicle charging infrastructure in rural and underserved communities, and community engagement to promote the benefits of electric vehicle ownership.

“Bonneville Environmental Foundation has been a clean energy partner of PUD 1 and the Skokomish Tribe for several years now, assisting with the solar project at the Skokomish tribal center and two community solar projects at the PUD,” stated Kristin Masteller, general manager of PUD 1. “BEF’s targeted outreach in this grant cycle to rural and underserved communities highlights their commitment to eliminating disparities in ZEV ownership and reducing carbon emissions.”

This is the second grant the PUD has received from BEF and the third project they have partnered on with the grantmaking nonprofit agency. However, this is the first time the PUD, Tribe and BEF have worked together on a non-solar project. “Power in the Pacific Northwest is largely carbon free, thanks to hydropower. So, when we look for measurable reductions in carbon emissions in our state, electrifying the transportation sector is a large focus. Installing ZEV infrastructure is one way that low cost, carbon free hydropower can enhance and support ZEV ownership in Mason County,” Masteller said. “ZEV owners that charge in Mason County are not only making the choice to use electricity instead of gasoline, but they’re also charging up with energy that is already over 95% carbon free.”

In the grant proposal, the PUD and Tribe highlighted the benefit to strategic tribal initiatives that also have far reaching benefits to all of Mason County. ZEV infrastructure encourages urban sprawl into rural areas for tourism, which supports the tax base and businesses throughout the county and is also a major source of income for the Tribe. The reduction of carbon emissions and decline in fuel usage result in cleaner air and less pollution for the Hood Canal and Puget Sound; both of which are crucial ecosystems for tribal fisheries and environmental initiatives. Situated on the highway at the gateway to the Olympic Mountains, the Skokomish Tribe’s Lucky Dog Casino and adjacent Twin Totems convenience store are a major stop for locals and travelers on the Highway 101 corridor. The grant will fund 75% of the costs to install two Level 2 pedestal chargers, security lighting, and signage, with the Tribe assuming the other 25% of the project cost.

Skokomish Indian Tribe emblem“We have been working towards offering electric car charging on the reservation and in this area for quite some time. We are excited to finally offer this service, and we continue to work towards developing businesses with convenience and modern amenities in mind,” stated David Owens, CEO for Skokomish Indian Tribal Enterprise, Inc.

Masteller noted that in 2019, the American Public Power Association featured a partnership with Nissan for a rebate worth thousands of dollars off the purchase of new Nissan Leaf vehicles for customers who live in a public power community. “It is our hope that these types of incentives continue to materialize, and as more used electric vehicles begin to make their way into the market, that we can connect people with opportunities to make ZEV ownership affordable and accessible. It’s a win for the environment, it’s a win for household budgets, and it helps the Tribe and the PUD meet both of our missions to serve our members and customers,” she said.

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Since 1935, PUD 1 has provided non-for-profit electric, water, and wastewater services to approximately 8,200 customers in Mason and Jefferson counties. The District’s mission is to provide customers with safe, reliable and valued utility services.

Mason County PUD No. 1 was honored by AT&T and Government Technology for the District’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic at a national Special Districts Summit, held virtually on December 15th.  According to Government Technology’s website, the Special Districts Awards Program is designed to recognize innovation and leadership within special district agencies across the country. This year, the program was looking for notable examples of how special districts applied innovative technologies and leadership to response and recovery efforts as they relate to COVID-19. Hundreds of submissions were submitted from agencies across the United States. Mason PUD 1’s general manager, Kristin Masteller, was invited to be a panelist at GovTech’s virtual Special Districts West Coast Summit this past August, joining panelists from Orange County Transportation Authority in California and Pinellas County in Florida.

(Pictured L-R: PUD 1 commissioner Ron Gold, general manager Kristin Masteller, and commissioner Mike Sheetz. Not pictured commissioner Jack Janda.)

“I am very honored and proud that our small public agency out here on the Hood Canal was recognized alongside giant metropolitan districts like Orange County and New York Power Authority. It doesn’t seem now like the actions we took when the pandemic started were that innovative, but they were extraordinary at that time,” Masteller said. “We closed our doors to the public for the first time in 85 years. That’s a big deal, and although most other agencies have now taken the same precautions to protect their employees and customers, we were the first ones to do that in Mason County and it was scary to take that leap. We didn’t know how bad this pandemic would end up being and were wary of appearing like we were overreacting when we sent people home and split up our crews. It was absolutely the right thing to do though, putting the safety of people above operational norms, and we have reaped the benefits of it to-date with a healthy workforce and maintaining reliable utility services.”

The PUD’s pandemic response plan was developed in transition, as an offshoot of the existing emergency response plan. Ron Gold, president of the PUD 1 board of commissioners, said, “We knew we needed to keep our employees safe so they could continue to do their jobs and keep the power and water on, so the board approved a pandemic leave policy to allow people to stay home if they were exposed, and to also set up office staff to work from home.” Gold also noted that staff has put extra effort into keeping the public informed, as well as working to bring in grants and assistance funds to help customers who are struggling to pay their utility bills. “There are a lot of people that are struggling right now, and we are doing everything we can to keep their services on now and into 2021,” said Gold. As part of the PUD’s initial actions in March, the commission announced a suspension on disconnections and late fees, authorized the manager to allow long term payment plans, and postponed planned rate increases to help its customers who were impacted financially by the pandemic and statewide shutdown. The PUD also secured and disbursed over $57,000 in CARES Act funding to 148 customer accounts in Mason and south Jefferson Counties.

In addition to the actions taken to protect employees and customers, the District also forged relationships with the local business community for critical supplies like hand sanitizer, personal protective equipment, bleach and peroxide for water system testing, and general supplies like paper products. “Our employees and commissioners really deserve the bulk of recognition for this award because of how quick and flexible they were to react to what needed to be done,” said Masteller. “However, our community partners and customers also deserve credit because they have been integral in ensuring that our plan has been successful, and we can continue to operate. This award recognizes their efforts as well.”

Formed by AT&T and Government Technology, the Special Districts Program is the first program designed for special district leaders across the United States. Special districts, such as port authorities, utility districts, transits and park districts, make up the largest portion of government agencies in the United States.

 

PUD 1 newsletter contributors Katie Arnold, Kristin Masteller and Darin Hall.

POTLATCH, WA- Mason County PUD No. 1 was honored this fall with four awards for excellence in communications. The District received a first place honor from the Northwest Public Power Association (NWPPA) in the Group A (less than 10,000 customers) wildcard category for their Dam Proud shirts, as well as a second place finish for the PUD newsletter “The Connector”, and a third place finish for the Community Solar II advertising campaign. NWPPA reported that they received a record setting 200 entries in 2020. The top three entries in each category are honored, broken out by utility size.

The American Public Power Association also handed down 42 top communications honors selected from their national membership. Mason PUD 1 was bestowed with an Award of Merit for “The Connector” in the category of utilities with operating revenues of $75 million or less. “This national recognition for our newsletter is really fantastic and marks the first time we have been honored by APPA for our communications efforts. To put it into perspective, we are competing with other member utilities all across the United States, many of whom have large budgets and entire communications departments.

We have an $11 million operating budget and all 25 of us at the PUD serve as communicators,” stated Kristin Masteller, PUD 1’s general manager. “Communications is a core value at PUD 1 and we work really hard to improve upon it internally and every time we engage with our customers.”

 

The awards for both NWPPA and APPA were presented at their virtual communications conferences earlier this fall.

Mason County PUD No. 1 unveiled their second community solar project at a drive-in ribbon cutting on Tuesday, July 28th at the PUD’s new warehouse in Potlatch.

After construction delays and rescheduling due to the pandemic, persistence paid off as over two dozen customers, community members, employees and commissioners came together under proper safety guidelines to celebrate the new solar array.

Mason County PUD No. 1 unveiled their second community solar project at a drive-in ribbon cutting on Tuesday, July 28th at the PUD’s new warehouse in Potlatch. After construction delays and rescheduling due to the pandemic, persistence paid off as over two dozen customers, community members, and employees came together under proper safety guidelines to celebrate the new solar array. “It was difficult trying to navigate around the Safe Start guidelines to hold a ribbon cutting event where our customers felt safe to participate,” stated Julie Gray, project manager for the PUD’s solar program. “After almost cancelling again, we floated the idea of having a drive-in style ribbon cutting where people could come to the campus to see their solar project from their vehicles. I was surprised at how many of them immediately replied that they loved the idea, so we made it happen.”

 

The Community Solar II project was developed by customer request. “Washington state PUDs are longstanding leaders in clean energy, with many of us having fuel mixes that are already 95-98% carbon free. Despite the reduction in state incentives for community and rooftop solar, we are still getting a strong interest from our customer base for solar and other renewable energy projects, which motivates us to make these opportunities available for our ratepayers,” said PUD 1 general manager Kristin Masteller. In addition to the two community solar projects, and three privately-owned hydroelectric projects on the PUD 1 system, the District also has invested in electric vehicle charging at the PUD and has partnered with local businesses and the Skokomish Tribe to expand it through the PUD’s service area.

 

Solar panels are predicted to produce energy for approximately 20 years. The PUD estimates that with the state incentive that runs through 2028, and the anticipated output from the array, customers who purchased units of the project, at $100 per unit, should see a return on their investment in 15-18 years. “While our first solar project did have a much higher incentive payment, it also produced enough energy to pay for itself in four years, where we were initially estimating 7-10 years,” stated Gray. “It’s possible that this project could exceed our generation estimates too and shorten that payback time. From then on, it’s income earned through energy credits on customers’ bills for the rest of the life of the project.”

 

At over 50 kilowatts, this project is more than twice the size of the PUD’s first solar project in 2016.In addition to the 965 units purchased by 41 customers, 500 units were paid for with a $50,000 grant from Bonneville Environmental Foundation to fund a low-income program. “BEF has been an amazing renewable energy partner for the PUD. This is the second project we’ve worked on with them and we have another in the pipeline later this year,” said Masteller. “Their grant enabled us to enroll 10 low income households in the program and those customers will receive the solar benefits until 2024, when we will draw 10 new participants. Over the life of the system, we should see up to 50 low-income households go through this program over the next 20 years. It’s an innovative way to ensure people at all income levels can take part in clean energy projects.”

 

Gray reported that between its start in May through June 30th, the array had already produced 14,193 kilowatt hours. Participants should receive their first incentive payment in coming weeks. The generation for both projects can be tracked online at solar.mason-pud1.org.

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.