BPA increases challenge Cheney Light
Department uses cash reserves, holds some capital projects to deal with power and transmission hikes
Cheney Light Department’s No. 1 goal for 2014 is pretty simple and pretty obvious: Keep the lights on.
“If we don’t keep the lights on we’re missing our core objective for this city,” Light Department Director Joe Noland told the City Council during budget presentations Nov. 12.
That task has been made a bit more challenging in 2014 thanks to a 9.56 percent increase in power and transmission charges by the Bonneville Power Administration, and a 1.3 percent growth in the system. That led to the city reaching its allowable purchase of Tier 1 power and it is now buying Tier 2 power to meet that growth.
These two factors lead to a forecasted increase in purchased power expenses in 2014 of 19.18 percent or $5,432,800, $4,990,000 of which is Tier 1 power and $442,800 of Tier 2. It results in 65 percent of Cheney’s projected 2014 budget of $8,386,000 being spent on buying power, an increase of $874,300 over 2013.
To cover that without raising rates, the department is proposing to use a good chunk of its $710,000 in beginning cash – reserves – while also relying on a 1.43 percent revenue increase due to an annual growth in sales. Noland said the department is also putting off some capital projects while it’s going through the increase in BPA rates.
“In short, what’s being proposed for the Light Department this year is a very, lean budget,” he said.
Cheney’s $8,386,000 in projected revenues amounts to a 5 percent increase over 2013. Almost 88 percent of that is derived through charges for utilities/service, $7,364,500, with 39 percent of that made up of residential charges and 21 percent coming from Eastern Washington University.
Cheney power expenses have been increasing every year, usually in the 3-7 percent range since 2009 with the exception of a 10.09 percent hike between 2011-2012 and the projected jump in 2014. At $61.55 per 1,000-kilowatt hours, the city’s power rates still remain pretty low in comparison with other local utilities Inland Power at $78.81 and Avista at $81.17.
Much of the department’s accomplishments in 2013 revolved around replacing equipment in the system, including 30 new poles, 45 new electrical meters, three phase instrument metering at eight locations as well as installing new secondary conduit to the last three transformers in the Caldwell Addition. The department also contracted with Davey’s Tree Service of Kennewick for its line clearance program, and ITRON to install a fixed network meter reading system, a project Noland said should begin soon and be up and running by early 2014.
System replacement work will continue in 2014, as well as implementation of a GIS-based pole inventory system and installation of electrical services at the new Harvest Bluff subdivision. The major project however will be replacing the department’s 15-year old bucket truck, at a projected cost of $240,000.
While the truck chassis has only 23,000 miles on it, Noland said the entire unit has logged 3,580 hours of work as a whole.
“That translates into about 173,000 miles,” he said.
The current truck, which like its potential replacement is custom built, was towed into a shop for repairs about six years ago. If a new rig isn’t purchased soon, Noland said it might end up being towed in again.
John McCallum can be reached at email@example.com.