Benton PUD and Franklin PUD were first formed through the initiative process when the local granges pushed for the formation of a PUD to take advantage of the cheap power that would be available from the construction of Bonneville and Grand Coulee dams in the 1930s.
In 1946, Benton PUD began providing electric service and Franklin PUD soon followed. With a couple of trucks and a few employees, the local PUDs began serving customers clean, reliable, low-cost hydropower.
Flash forward 70 years. Our PUDs combined serve more than 75,000 customers throughout Benton and Franklin counties. Through the years, customers have thought less and less about electricity, other than when they paid their bill or experience an occasional outage, usually caused by a wind storm (or more recently, by squirrels).
Our first customers used electricity for lights, a few appliances and heating their home. At that time, the average home used 3,700 kilowatt hours (kWhs) of electricity per year.
3,700 kilowatt-hours used by average home when PUDs started
17,000 kilowatt-hours used by average home today
Today, an average home uses 17,000 kWhs annually for hundreds of items, including smartphones and other new technologies that make our lives easier and more comfortable.
Many people may not realize that the fundamental aspects of our nation’s electric grid, consisting of centralized power stations, transmission towers, substations and distribution systems, have not changed for decades. Certainly, there have been improvements in generating technologies and reliability enhancements, but at a fundamental level, the electric grid and the utility business model have stayed the same.
But now, the electric utility business model is beginning to change in a very big way.
What’s different? In a word, technology. Within the next few years, solar panels and electric vehicles will likely reach price points that make them affordable in many parts of the country. Energy storage will follow. Energy efficiency improvements will continue to drive down energy use. Using new technologies, nonutility providers will begin to present options to customers, thereby affecting the way utilities charge for their services.
Your PUDs are making prudent investments in technologies, while at the same time balancing customers’ needs and expectations.
By way of comparison, some of us are old enough to remember the phone monopolies of the past: landlines, party lines and long-distance phone charges. Back then, none of us could have imagined how phone communications would change. But change they did, and during the next decade or two, the electric utility business will change as well.
Locally, we will continue in our efforts to manage our small part of the magnificent electric grid to the benefit of our customers. As we reflect on 70 years of serving our communities, we are also prepared to adapt along with our changing industry.
Your PUDs are making prudent investments in technologies, while at the same time balancing customers’ needs and expectations. For example, the PUDs have introduced community solar projects that enable participants to take advantage of state and federal incentives.
At the same time, new technologies offer our customers new services and, consequently, new expectations. Energy management has become more sophisticated, and customers are interested in technologies that help them save money and provide convenience.
With the national and statewide focus on carbon reductions, utilities need to harness other new technologies to protect reliability, improve efficiency, support new energy resources and remain affordable. The utility of the future is greener, smarter, more efficient, flexible and an information resource for their customers.