Okanogan County PUD to apply for grant to bring direct fiber to Carlton area

PUD Commissioners hear highlights and challenges from the 2023 legislative session

By Shiela Corson-OKPUD Public Relations

OKANOGAN – At the May 8 Okanogan County PUD commissioner meeting multiple topics were discussed, from a broadband grant opportunity for Carlton, legislative updates, a national safety award, construction project updates and more.

• Commissioners gave permission for staff to apply for $5 million in funding from the USDA’s Community Connect grant program to bring direct fiber to the home for the Carlton area. If the grant is awarded, it would require about $750,000 total in matching funds from the PUD over several years.

• Legislative consultant Jason Herbert of Energy Northwest shared some highlights and challenges from the 2023 legislative session. Among the bills discussed:

  • Utility wildfire mitigation bill – requires utilities to create and share wildfire mitigation plans with the state Department of Natural Resources.
  • Resource adequacy bill – requires the state to study the likelihood of insufficient power supply in years to come, especially considering the current push toward electrification and the shuttering of non-renewable energy sources.
  • Extreme heat moratorium bill – allows customers behind on bills to request not to be disconnected during periods of extreme heat, as determined by National Weather Service reports.

• Commissioners congratulated PUD staff on an Honorable Mention Award for safety from the American Public Power Association. The program compares similarly sized electric utilities and their safety records over the past year.

• Customer Service Supervisor Mindy Morris reported that from October to April, more than 1,000 customers had utilized more than $466,000 in payment assistance. Partner agency Okanogan County Community Action Council is now operating on a full 12-month funding cycle and currently has assistance available for those in need.

• Engineering Manager Allen Allie shared that the Tonasket substation rebuild would get power transformers soon. Also, contract crew Olympic Electric was working on Pharr Road outside Riverside and would soon be working on Aeneas Valley replacing aging infrastructure.

• Chief Engineer Dan Simpson shared that Bonneville Power Administration (BPA) is working on two sections of their transmission lines that they identified as “high risk” for wildfire. If the area of the lines were to get a red flag warning and predicted wind speeds of 30-plus mph, BPA could choose to disconnect power. Although that would not likely affect the PUD because of its redundancy, it could have some local impacts if other issues occurred at the same time. BPA’s planned maintenance on the lines could remove them from the high-risk list, but exact dates for that maintenance are unknown.