In this issue of Ruralite is an update on the weather and the cost of power for Plumas-Sierra Rural Electric Cooperative (PSREC). As I write this, we have been buffeted by the series of atmospheric rivers through mid-January. I am pleased to report our electric and telecommunications systems have held up well.
We get questions and comments that assume good precipitation anywhere equals lower costs of power for PSREC and lower rates. Just because there is moisture somewhere in California, it does not mean PSREC will get full hydropower deliveries and reduce our costs.
Our primary power supplier for decades has been the Western Area Power Administration. Western is a federal agency that exists to sell power from the Bureau of Reclamation federal dams to eligible nonprofit (municipal and cooperative) customers. The Bureau’s main priority is flood control, followed by fisheries, water delivery to contractors, and, finally, power customers and recreation use. First call on hydropower generated is for Bureau operations, including pumps to deliver water to the Glenn and Colusa County water customers or for filling San Luis Reservoir so gravity will then carry the water south to water customers in the San Joaquin Valley. PSREC and other hydropower customers of Western (including LMUD) get what is surplus to the Bureau’s needs.
Precipitation only helps us if the water falls in the right watershed, in the form of snow as much as possible and the Bureau operates their system efficiently. Western has no intention of giving us our “normal” allotment of hydropower until at least March. There has been precipitation in the southern Sierra, which does not benefit PSREC from a hydropower standpoint. There is also precipitation in the central Sierra, which is good if it lasts in the form of a snowpack, and precipitation to the Shasta Dam watershed.
PSREC’s hydropower comes primarily from Shasta Dam and several smaller associated power plants. Great snow and rain south of Shasta Dam but north of the American River watershed does not help our hydropower deliveries. The next most important river system to us is the American River complex and Folsom Dam.
The drought getting better is great, but the final impact will not be known until we see if both the reservoirs and the snowpack in the far north of California are average or better. The better both of those are, the lower our power costs, but that does not mean the wholesale power cost adjustment will go away quickly.
Energy Markets – December & January
One of the problems with power costs we have not yet discussed with our members yet is a huge spike in natural gas prices throughout the western United States. Natural gas, the primary fuel for power plants in the west, was already high in 2022 due to the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Prices started settling down nationally in November, but in December, prices shot up to 1,000% of where they had been a year earlier for the Western United States. Prices for natural gas have faded to 400% of normal in late January, which is better but still horrific.
Part of the problem may be that there was an explosion on a pipeline in Arizona that reduced the flow of natural gas from Texas. That should be repaired by the start of spring. In a separate situation, Pacific Gas and Electric Company’s (PG&E) natural gas division was given permission by the California Public Utility Commission to reclassify a sizable portion of its natural gas as a “cushion” instead of “working gas.” This distorted the natural gas market as well, but even experts in the industry do not understand why prices are so high.
We currently have a Wholesale Power Cost Adjustment (WPCA) of $0.02 per kilowatt-hour (kWh). It is possible high natural gas prices for the first part of 2023 could force us to raise the WPCA more. We protected our members from soaring prices in 2022, but we are not able to do it 2 years in a row. Our $0.02 per kWh did not include the impact of such unexpectedly high prices in December through February.
We do not see the power cost adjustment going down soon. It is possible it may go up depending on how quickly our hydropower starts delivering and the impact of the somewhat irrational power markets in the meantime.
Legislative & Regulatory Actions
We are working with our fellow utilities as part of Golden State Power Cooperative (our trade association), the Northern California Power Agency, and others in the industry on regulatory and legislative responses. There were entities in the natural gas and power markets who made enormous profits from a short-term, potentially manufactured, crisis.
The PSREC Community Solar Program is still offering blocks of 100 kWhs a month to members who want to use solar. PSREC offers members the choice of a monthly adder to their existing rate or a one-time upfront fee to participate in community solar. PSREC’s Community Solar Program is a great option for members who may not want to make a large upfront investment in a solar power system or rent or live in an area where a solar power system would not produce optimal energy output. Community solar is a maintenance-free, cost-effective way to participate in renewable power without solar panels on your roof. To sign up for PSREC’s Community Solar Program, call (530) 832-4261 or visit Plumas-Sierra Rural Electric Cooperative page.
Winter is here, and Plumas-Sierra Telecommunications (PST) crews continue to build our fiber network and complete as many installations as weather will allow. We are replacing some of our coax network with fiber optic in areas of North Portola. Additionally, the Ponderosa Boulevard and surrounding area in Janesville is open for fiber installations. PST expects to start work on the Galeppi Ranch and Carol Lane East area in early winter, as conditions allow. We await final approval for the project that runs from the Mohawk substation (by Little Bear campground) to Spring Garden and through Greenhorn Ranch. We hope to begin construction once the snow melts. We are delighted to begin construction on the most recent grants we received from the California Public Utilities Commisions (PUC). As we build out, we will ensure we can serve as many people as possible along the way. Once we have our routes finalized, we will post them on Plumas-Sierra Rural Electric Cooperative. PST will apply for additional California Advanced Services Fund (CASF) Grant funding in 2023 to allow PST to continue bringing service to areas in our region that are harder to reach. For our members, we apply for all the grants we can to keep filling in new service areas. Our fiber optic service offers speeds of up to 1 gigabyte per second with unlimited data. For more information, or to sign up for internet service, call (530) 832-4126 or visit Plumas-Sierra Telecommunications website.
2 $1,000 scholarships are available. The deadline is April 24. Scholarships are open to high school seniors and older students with no upper age limit. To qualify, the student’s primary residence in Plumas, Lassen, Sierra or Washoe counties must be supplied with either electric power through PSREC or internet service through Plumas-Sierra Telecommunications. For more information, call (530) 832-4261 extension 6076, or email me.
I would like to thank our line crews who worked tirelessly at all hours of the day and night in terrible weather during the recent storms to restore power as quickly as possible to our members. As this gets to you in the heart of winter, there is still the possibility of additional major storms. PSREC provides outage notifications via email, text, social media and our website. To receive notices, sign into SmartHub at Plumas-Sierra Rural Electric Cooperative and visit the “manage notifications” section to select the alerts you would like to receive. If you need assistance, call (530) 832-4261. We are here to help you, our member/owners. For more information on outage preparedness, visit our Outage Tips page. You can also view areas affected by outages on the power outage map page. If you have any questions or would like more information, please call me at (530) 832-4261 ext. 6076, oremail me.