Fiber and Meters Coming this Fall
Some of the conduit for the 250 miles of fiber optic cable the PUD will begin installing this fall is already here. So is the fiber itself, on great big wooden reels, with more on order. Also ordered? New electric meters. Over 500 of them.
These orders represent the first steps in two projects that have been underway as long as the PUD has been in the electrical business, which as of April 2022 is nine years. Since 2013, the PUD has been studying ways to build fiber to rural residents who lack it and planning for the eventual replacement of its aged and failing meter system. While some amount of planning and studying continues, the work to begin both endeavors is officially slated to start this fall.
What changed? On the broadband side, a worldwide pandemic and $23M in state and federal grant funding has certainly made a difference. For meter replacement, time has been the determining factor. When the PUD proposed meter replacement in 2017, concerns from a number of customers led to lots of public comment and many questions at PUD commissioner meetings, as well as a postponement of the project. In 2019, the PUD approved an opt-out program. And in 2021, the PUD conducted a long-requested business case study on multiple types of metering systems that clearly showed Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI)– which offers two way communication, instant outage reports, and remote disconnect– provided the best financial and feature benefits to the PUD and its customers. In 2022, the PUD reviewed proposals from multiple meter vendors and chose Vision Metering of South Carolina to provide the over 20,000 electric meters it would need to replace the current system. Total project cost (including purchase, installation, and recycling of old meters) is estimated at $4.5M, which staff plans to fund through a low interest loan from the USDA. While the first batch of meters will be installed in September of 2022, full replacement won’t be completed until 2024.
The PUD’s plans to build fiber to all electric service territory customers lacking broadband will extend into 2025. Currently the PUD has been awarded $23M to build fiber to over 2,400 customers extending from Quilcene to Gardiner, part of Chimacum, up Discovery Bay all the way to Middlepoint along the Strait, as well as the Woodland Hills community near the airport and Marrowstone Island. The PUD is also working on an application for grant funds to build to the remainder of Chimacum, as well as rural areas around Port Ludlow and down the Toandos Peninsula to Coyle. Additionally, PUD staff are pursuing low-interest loan funding from the state to build fiber to more businesses in Port Townsend from Fort Worden to Glen Cove.