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Power users learn about rate increases at MVP Customer Appreciation Dinner

By Lailani Upham

Customers are seated and lined up across the barn at the annual MVP Customer Appreciation dinner meeting. (Lailani Upham photo) Customers are seated and lined up across the barn at the annual MVP Customer Appreciation dinner meeting. (Lailani Upham photo)

PABLO — This year’s Mission Valley Power’s customer appreciation dinner marked MVP’s 25 year existence and Bonneville Power’s 75 year existence.

MVP have been bound to a rate contract with Bonneville for over two decades – with the two powers they have poured out power-savings in energy bills to customers in the region.

However, in the last couple years talk has been on the rate increase in which both Powers tried very hard to keep it as is.

Bragging rights have been earned – as rates have been one of the lowest rates in Montana for several years for MVP customers.

Ralph Goode, MVP General Manager opened with a welcome. Goode encouraged customers to look at the Annual Report for October 1, 2011 to September 30, 2012 that was handed out at the meeting. He encouraged the dedication the companies have to strategizing in every way to serve their customers in fair rates but in growth as well.

St. Ignatius High School student Christopher Camel receives the top dollar award for the Mission Valley Power Employee student scholarship. Camel was the only recipient present at the annual dinner meeting. (Lailani Upham photo) St. Ignatius High School student Christopher Camel receives the top dollar award for the Mission Valley Power Employee student scholarship. Camel was the only recipient present at the annual dinner meeting. (Lailani Upham photo)

“Mission Valley Power had another progressive year as we rebuilt over 35 miles of power line to increase our reliability to your residence and business, rebuilt and enlarged the Ronan West substation were major accomplishments along with many other listed in report,” stated Goode.

Goode informed the guests that the service number includes over 19,200 plus automated meters, 20 substations, 2,132 miles of three or single phase over-head lines, with 214 miles of underground lines, and 147 miles of transmission lines.

The average load is just over 45 Mega Watts (MW) with a peak exceeding 90 MW in the winter and 60 in the summer.

Over 80 percent of MVP’s power comes from Bonneville Power Administration, and 19 percent from PPL Montana (Kerr Dam) and the remaining from small hydro and renewable power sources.

Over 300 people showed up for the annual dinner at the MVP barn last Wednesday evening. Lots of door prizes, scholarships, energy saving tips and good food were on the agenda – as it has been each year.

This year, keynote speaker, Mike Normandeau, Account Executive for Bonneville Power Administration touched on the history of BPA, the value of their customers and the challenges of the future, and the hopes.

“This past year marked the 75th anniversary of the Bonneville Power Administration and the Federal Columbia River Power System. On August 20, 1937, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed the Bonneville Project Act which harnessed the massive benefits of Columbia River and its many tributaries — his signature then and the work accomplished over the last 75 years have paved the way for providing clean, inexpensive— carbon free electricity to residents and businesses in the Northwest today.”

Mike Normandeau, BPA Account Executive and keynote speaker give an overview on the history of BPA past 75 years existence. (Lailani Upham photo) Mike Normandeau, BPA Account Executive and keynote speaker give an overview on the history of BPA past 75 years existence. (Lailani Upham photo)

Normandeau said that throughout the last seven decades, the Federal Columbia River Power System played a huge role in bringing electricity to small and rural communities, win a world war, develop a vibrant economy, irrigate farms and ranches, and created recreation areas, protected towns and cities from flooding and opened the way for trade of billions of tons of products to markets across the globe.

BPA is a federal nonprofit agency based in the Pacific Northwest, and part of the U.S. Department of Energy. However, BPA is a self-funding agency that covers costs by selling products and services, Normandeau stated. BPA markets wholesale electrical power from 31 federal hydro projects in the Columbia River Basin, one nonfederal nuclear plant and several other small nonfederal power plants, he added.

“As part of its responsibilities, BPA promotes energy efficiency, renewable resources and new technologies. The agency also funds regional efforts to protect and rebuild fish and wildlife populations affected by hydropower development in the Columbia River Basin,” he explained.

BPA transmission operates and maintains 15,000 miles across western Montana, Idaho, Oregon, Washington, as well as parts of Nevada and Northern California with high voltage transmission lines.

“This represents roughly 60 percent of all high-voltage transmission in the Northwest.”

The service area spans over 300,000 square miles.

Annual revenues for BPA power and transmission services exceed $3.2 billion, Normandeau stated.

With the partnership of other utility companies Normandeau said they have been able to conserve 1,200 MW since 1981. “That is enough energy savings to power two cities the size of Seattle.”

Normandeau said BPA has integrated 4,500 MW wind generation into the northwest power grid and the number is expected to increase by 2,500 MW in the coming years.

Wyman McDonald, volunteers to serve at the annual MVP feed. (Lailani Upham photo) Wyman McDonald, volunteers to serve at the annual MVP feed. (Lailani Upham photo)

“Finally, and probably most important to everyone here. Our wholesale energy rates are some the lowest in the nation, thanks in large part due to the foresight of our leaders 75 years ago and the fact we have a clean-renewable energy resource second to none, the Columbia,” he added.

He assured that going forward there would be large challenges, and touched on three: the age of the hydro and transmission system; generating and delivering electricity is getting more complicated and more costly; and facing increased volatility in energy markets as well as changes in the region’s water supply due to shifting weather patterns.

“Much of the system was built before 1980. As a result, the system is beginning to show its age and we now have to rebuild and augment the system to meet today’s demands. To put some perspective around this effort, our capital expenditures are expected to exceed $1 Billion a year over the next several years. In the era where ballooning federal deficits are a real concern, BPA and our customers make it a priority to pay the annual mortgage to our banker, the US Treasury, with interest. The annual treasury payment for the federal system is made each September, and is roughly $800 million dollars,” Normandeau explained.

The second challenge of delivering energy is beginning to not only be more costly but more complicated. “There is growing pressure for the federal system to support integration of new variable resources such as wind and solar to meet state renewable portfolio standards. This is something that was not contemplated 75 years ago and it is requiring a tremendous amount of coordination and discussion with our customers and stakeholders inside and outside the region. A critical question in this debate is who should be paying these costs and who should receive the benefits. We’re definitely asking a lot more of the system today than we did 20 years ago. BPA is also working to integrate new technologies to support smart grids and demand response programs to respond to the changing demands on the system.”

Prizes galore from garden trolls, to electric heaters, to gift certificates to go toward a MVP bill account are handed out via a name drawing toward the end of the night. (Lailani Upham photo) Prizes galore from garden trolls, to electric heaters, to gift certificates to go toward a MVP bill account are handed out via a name drawing toward the end of the night. (Lailani Upham photo)

The final challenge of increased volatility in energy markets and changes in water supply is due to shifting weather patterns, Normandeau continued. “Today, natural gas prices are lower than they were 10 years ago. This is a good thing on one hand, but on the other, it’s not. Lower gas prices directly impacts our ability to sell surplus energy on the open market. Revenues earned from surplus energy help keep our rates low. When those revenues drop, our rates go up. This is real challenge for keeping rates low and stable. In addition to lower energy markets due to abundant natural gas, we’re also experiencing warmer, drier winters and wetter springs. This is placing additional burdens on the system as we integrate greater amounts of wind generation into the system. In the past three years, the Northwest has seen the price of wholesale energy drop to zero and even negative prices in the spring-time when there is an abundance of water and wind in the region. We expect this to be an ongoing challenge in the years to come.”

Despite the challenges, BPA and their utility customers are assured to be well-positioned for the next 75 years, Normandeau stated.

“We are already the lowest carbon emitting region in the country, largely due to the fact we are blessed with abundant carbon-free power from the hydro system. We have a robust energy conservation program focused on securing as much cost-effective energy efficiency as possible. We are actively working with our customers and regional stakeholders to mitigate the impacts of the hydro system on fish and wildlife. We continue to work closely with our utility partners to keep rates as low as possible while we continue to invest in our power and transmission system to ensure that it will be as reliable tomorrow as it is today.”

This year’s Mission Valley Power Employee Student scholarships went to: $750 to Christopher Camel of St. Ignatius; $500 to Robert Gauthier of Ronan; $250 to Sara Nerby of St Ignatius.

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