Grant County PUD unveils 2021 budget

by CHERYL SCHWEIZER
Staff Writer | October 16, 2020 1:00 AM

EPHRATA — Grant County PUD projects $278.4 million in total expenses in 2021 and that it will end the year with about $47.7 million income in excess of expenses.

Utility district officials reviewed the preliminary budget at a public hearing Oct. 13.

Financial analyst John Mertlich said the PUD is expected to keep growing in 2021, although at a slower pace than projected before the COVID-19 outbreak. The demand for electricity is projected to grow by 4.1 percent in 2021, which is above the average growth when measured from 2008 to 2020. Most of that new demand is expected to come from large industrial customers, Mertlich said.

Some of the major projects scheduled for 2021 include a new substation in Royal City and the Red Rock transmission line near Royal City. The budget includes additional transmission capacity at Mountain View substation near Quincy and substation work at Baird Springs and the old Burke townsite, both near Quincy. The Royal City, Burke and Baird substations and the expansion at Mountain View are projected to cost about $19.7 million.

The 2021 budget estimates spending more than $16 million for work on the right embankment at Priest Rapids Dam. It’s the second year of a project to stabilize the right bank, which could crumble in the event of an earthquake of magnitude 6 or greater on the Richter scale. Utility district engineers said it’s unlikely the bank would crumble, but it could.

Embankment work also will continue at Wanapum Dam, where PUD officials budgeted about $1 million for work on the left embankment.

Utility district officials have budgeted $13 million to upgrade a turbine at Priest Rapids, and another $5.5 million to upgrade one of the dam’s generators. Upgrades and replacements of turbines and generators at Priest Rapids and Wanapum dams has been underway for more than a decade.

The PUD is projected to spend about $11 million to expand the district’s fiber optic network. It’s the third year of a plan to finish building out the network county-wide, which is expected to take five to six years.

About $6 million is budgeted for work on PUD facilities, including remodeling of the offices in Moses Lake and Ephrata, Mertlich said.

An upcoming Herald story will address electricity bills in light of the PUD’s budget forecast.

Cheryl Schweizer can be reached via email at cschweizer@columbiabasinherald.com.