Randy Smith runs for Chelan County PUD

Current Chelan PUD Commissioner
Randy Smith wants to stay on board

By Gary Bégin
CASHMERE -- Chelan Public Utility District Commissioner Randy Smith, who is a retired orchardist from here, has decided to run for reelection. NCW Media Managing Editor Gary Bégin was able to catch up with the super busy Smith and pose a few questions about his reasons for running for office again. His answers follow:
NCW Media: How long have you been on the Board and why do you want to remain?
Randy Smith: I've been on the board for 12 years and have found the position to be a tremendous opportunity to provide policy guidance for delivering the services to our county residents that we all take for granted, electricity, water, and for a limited group, waste water. Also to help lay out the roadmap for the next essential utility service, fiber optics, to reach the maximum number of people possible in Chelan County.  All of these utility services are continually a work In progress, and I'd like to be there for the next six years to help ensure that we "stay the course" in how we are providing all of these for our customer/owners.
NCW Media: Why is bitcoin and block chain technology regulation so important to our electric grid?
Smith: While I do not pretend to understand how bitcoin really works, what I do know is that we have to get our policies regarding large installations right to protect our Chelan County residents. We understand that bitcoin can consume a HUGE amount of electricity, and could leave literally overnight leaving stranded infrastructure that costs millions of dollars to install. Those policies need to include the right price for the electricity and the right amount of upfront payment from the operators for infrastructure improvements, to ensure that we don't get stuck with those costs if they leave.
NCW Media: What projects have you completed and/or started as a PUD Commissioner that you are proud to point to?
Smith: Several years ago in 2013, the Commission and Senior Management embarked on a very large outreach during our Strategic Planning Process. We had several thousand Chelan County residents engaged in this process. What came out of that process is nothing short of astounding ... we would not have done many of these things without the public input: Free day use passes at our parks operated by the State Parks system; A slow sustainable buildout of our fiber optics network; The creation of a "Hydro Research Institute". One that we were in the process of doing, and was reaffirmed by the public was to pay down our debt. We have now paid down nearly 50% of our debt from over a billion dollars eight years ago, to a little over $500 million today ... and more reductions are planned. Lastly, and maybe most importantly, was how our customers were looking to the future and saying, "reinvest in our assets", meaning, make sure that our dams and other facilities were ready to go for another 50-100 years. We are in the beginning stages of a very large reinvestment in our dams and facilities.
NCW Media: What has been the best practice in keeping our power rates so low?
Smith: Making sure that we are operating efficiently and our outside power sales are key components of keeping our rates low. As long as we can continue to sell nearly 80% of the power we produce to others, we will continue to keep lower our rates here locally. Our customer/owners currently enjoy nearly 40% discount off their actual power costs because of these sales.
NCW Media: Are there plans for more power production in general and especially for those aforementioned new technologies?
Smith: With our current large production of electricity, there are no immediate plans for additional power production. However, if there was customer demand for the new technologies, we would always listen.
NCW Media: If you had one paragraph to educate the public about the purpose of the PUD, in your vision, what would you say?
Smith: PUD's are publicly owned not for profit utilities dedicated to the belief that local decision making can produce the best results and lowest costs possible that our customers want in their utility services. We are not driven to produce profits for shareholders, only the lowest cost, most reliable, most customer friendly utility possible. The decision makers (Commissioners) are locally elected and held accountable at the ballot box for those decisions.
NCW Media: Why are you a better choice than your opponent?
Smith: I always choose to talk about what I see as my strengths, and then let the voters make their decision about who is best qualified. I'm a good listener, team player, knowledgeable of the issues, highly experienced in financial affairs and always try to make decisions with my eyes on the future of our utility. Maybe most importantly is that my 12 years of experience gives me the insights to how to best move our utility forward in a rapidly changing world.
NCW Media: Is selling power to other areas of the state a profitable venture?
Smith: The very short answer is YES. With the addition of wind and solar power as a mandate for utilities at the state level, the profitability has been diminished, but we are working to get recognition of our "renewable" hydro in the near future which should enhance our prices.
NCW Media: Tell the readers about the PUD partial ownership of alternative power source such as the windfarm.
Smith: Chelan PUD owns 8 megawatts of phase 1 of the 9 Canyons Wind Farm near the Tri-Cities. That was purchased nearly 20 years ago when wind power was in its infancy. To put that in perspective, we use around 210 megawatts to serve Chelan County residents, so this represents about 4% of our usage. Our utility has always attempted to be supportive of the exploration of energy generation research, and this ownership is part of that seeing just how it would work in our regional energy supply.
NCW Media: What are your goals if elected to another term?
Smith: If reelected, this will be my last term. In looking at the next 6 years, we have many opportunities ahead of us.  We are doing major rehabilitation of Rock Island Dam, which should be just about complete during that time. We are working to modernize the Columbia River Treaty (With Canada) which expires In 2024, and if negotiated well, could enhance our revenues for many years into the future. Maybe most importantly we are In the beginning stages of putting together our application to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission for the relicensing of Rock Island Dam. Our current license expires in 2028.  These licenses normally for 50 years in duration, so the requirements within them we have to live with for that time period. This will be an exciting time to utilize the experience I have gained over the past 12 years to provide input into all of the above items for the benefit of the people of Chelan County.

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