Douglas County PUD says it's faced with a major challenge looking into the future. 

Electricity demand in the county has been rising sharply since 2017 and will become much more acute with the electrification of cars and trucks. 

But the PUD won't be able to compensate for the massive increase because its source for electricity, hydropower from the Columbia River, can't be changed. 

"We're not in a crisis right now," said Douglas PUD spokesperson Vibbert. "But we're looking ahead and seeing how we're going to continue to provide that reliable low-cost power to our customers, but still do it in a fashion that doesn't put the utility in financial jeopardy." 

Vibbert says they have a presentation which outlines the challenges ahead for the utility. 

It will be shown twice, at 1:30 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. Nov. 14 at the Douglas County PUD board room, 1151 Valley Mall Parkway, in East Wenatchee. The presentation was made at this week's Douglas County PUD board meeting. It's also available online. 

Image of sharp increase in local electricity demand in Douglas County from Douglas PUD
Image of sharp increase in local electricity demand in Douglas County from Douglas PUD

Under historical circumstances, the electricity demand in the county has ebbed and flowed from year to year, but since 2017 it’s grown from 100 megawatts to 160. (See chart above)

Meanwhile, in the short term, the PUD is dealing with an unusually low flow of water on the Columbia River into its Wells Dam, which is slowing down its production of hydropower. 

Vibbert says the current low water flow is squeezing its ability to serve county customers. 

"September, October have been uber low, and that means we can't generate as much electricity as necessary," Vibbert said. "And when we can't generate enough for our load, then we need to go out and purchase it, and that's where those extra costs come un." 

The PUD normally produces an excess of hydropower, and has contracts in place to sell that power on the open market. 

But it's now required it to buy power for its own county customers for a much higher price from an outside source. 

The Douglas PUD fuel mix that is used to generate electricity serving its local customers, is: 

  • 41.4% hydroelectric 
  • 28% natural gas 
  • 22.3% coal 
  • 3.5% nuclear 
  • 3.3% wind 
  • Less than 1% biomass 
  • Less than .5% petroleum 
  • 0% solar 

The PUD typically receives about $90 a month on average from rates paid by Douglas County customers. But it costs about $355 per month to generate that electricity for each customer. 

The utility is normally able to cover the $255 difference, and clear a healthy profit, through sales of hydropower on the open market. Current conditions are squeezing that model.  

Vibbert says the utility is in no short-term danger because of the money it has in savings. 

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