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Friday, March 1, 2024
March 1, 2024

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Clark Public Utilities divvies up $25 million

2022 surplus will go toward multiple upcoming projects

By , Columbian staff writer

After another year of upholding conservative budgets and strict spending habits, Clark Public Utilities decided how to distribute $25 million from its 2022 electric surplus toward future developments.

The utility’s expanding list of capital and infrastructure projects took precedence, leading its board of commissioners to vote Tuesday in accordance with staff recommendations: divvying the grand total among three different buckets touching on resource reliability.

“Setting this money aside now will reduce our future reliance on bond issuances for or financing those investments and will reduce the total expense of completing those projects,” the utility’s spokesperson, Dameon Pesanti, wrote to The Columbian.

Though there have been few instances where revenue surplus was returned to the utility’s customers as a bill credit, commissioners underscored that their decision can still be viewed as a return to customers, as it sustains a strong power system for the roughly 225,000 households that depend on it.

From the $25 million surplus, $5 million will be funneled toward electric discretionary capital improvements. This covers infrastructure costs such as electric transformers, transmission lines, and required items for system maintenance and upgrades.

The utility’s resource adequacy will receive a $10 million bump, which can be used to procure power during peak load hours, Pesanti said. At its root, resource adequacy can be thought of as a means for the utility to maintain its supply volume at all hours. This capacity is important when customer demand spikes — think bitterly cold mornings or sweltering summer days.

Lastly, Clark Public Utilities’ recently established advanced metering infrastructure project is set to receive $10 million from the electric surplus. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, this type of system serves to lower overall operational costs, including metering and billing expenses, while allowing customers to have more control over their electricity consumption.

Because the project rollout is in its early stages, spending would be dispersed across both digital systems and physical infrastructure to support the new addition, Pesanti said.

Returns from 2022 were slightly less than in previous cycles. In 2021, the electric system surplus was $30 million and the water surplus was $4 million. In 2020, the electric surplus was $33 million and the water system returned $2 million.

In a separate motion, the board approved a transfer of $1 million from its water surplus — separate from the electric fund — to its capital discretionary fund.

Public opinion received ahead of the board’s meeting addressed the value of reinvesting in infrastructure rather than providing bill credits. More than a dozen emails instead focused on the value of clean energy, efforts like increasing solar projects or generating renewable energy.

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This story was made possible by Community Funded Journalism, a project from The Columbian and the Local Media Foundation. Top donors include the Ed and Dollie Lynch Fund, Patricia, David and Jacob Nierenberg, Connie and Lee Kearney, Steve and Jan Oliva, The Cowlitz Tribal Foundation and the Mason E. Nolan Charitable Fund. The Columbian controls all content. For more information, visit columbian.com/cfj.

Columbian staff writer