The United States Department of Agriculture has granted the Jefferson County Public Utility District No. 1 in Washington a $5.4 million loan that the public power utility plans to use to expand the rollout of advanced metering infrastructure and broadband services.
The loan has two components. The first, $1.35 million portion is for the utility’s new office building and the remaining $4.05 million is the advanced metering infrastructure rollout.
The loan has a 26-year term. The Department of Agriculture has yet to set the interest rate for the loan.
Jefferson County PUD purchased the new office building in 2022. Originally the utility had hoped to use the loan to purchase the building, but “it took so long to secure the loan, we went ahead with the purchase,” Will O’Donnell, Jefferson County PUD’s director of broadband and communications, said. The utility plans to use the loan to replenish its cash reserves, which will also allow it to amortize the cost of the purchase over the next 26 years.
The new, 5,840 square foot building, which the utility has occupied since May 2022, houses the PUD’s broadband team and some administrative staff. It has 16 offices, two server rooms, a conference room, and a 130-foot lattice radio tower. The building was previously used by a telecommunications and technology company.
Jefferson PUD already has 50 miles of fiber optic cable, which supports its supervisory control and data acquisition system and serves about 40 anchor businesses in its territory.
The utility plans to install 543 miles of fiber optic cable in the next four to five years.
“It is a very big push into broadband for our utility,” O’Donnell said.
Jefferson PUD has already received $25 million in state and federal grants for its broadband expansion and plans to go out for another $50 million to $60 million, O’Donnell said.
Of the $4.05 million component of the loan, $2.45 million will be used on advanced metering infrastructure meters and corresponding equipment; $950,000 for meter removal, installation, and disposal; $475,000 on collector and equipment installation, and $185,000 for supervisory control and data acquisition costs.
Planning for the switch to advanced metering infrastructure has been underway for a decade. The rollout this year coincides with the PUD’s 10-year anniversary as an electric utility. It acquired the Jefferson County electrical grid from Puget Sound Energy for $103 million and began operations in April 2013.
The PUD’s advanced metering infrastructure rollout halted in 2017 because of customer fears and concerns. The utility offered an opt-out in 2020, and about 300 customers chose not to switch to advanced metering infrastructure.
Work on the rollout resumed in the second half of 2021, which is also when the utility applied for the Department of Agriculture loan. Vision Metering was selected as the vendor. After much preparation, deployment began in September 2022.
To date, Jefferson PUD has installed 2,000 advanced metering infrastructure meters and has another 18,000 to go to replace all of its 20,000 meters. “We are ramping up and hope to have it done by the end of the year,” O’Donnell said.
As part of the rollout, Jefferson PUD has added two meter readers to its staff. When the new meters are installed, those employees will have the option to bid into the PUD’s growing broadband or electrical operations teams.