Collaboration in Civic Spheres

Archive for the ‘Utilities’ Category

Avista Would Pay $200K Penalty For Gas Pipeline Explosion

by Matt Rosenberg February 3rd, 2011

SUMMARY: Under a proposed settlement agreement issued today, Avista Utilities would pay the state a penalty of $200,000 for rules violations in connection with a December, 2008 natural gas pipeline explosion and fire in Odessa, Wash. The proposed settlement agreement has to be approved by state utility commissioners to take effect, and would also include additional education, inspection and analysis requirements of Avista.

BACKGROUND: On 12/26/08 a section of natural gas pipeline at 206 N. Birch Street in Odessa, Wash. operated by Avista Utilities exploded and caused a fire, injuring two people and damaging a garage and secondary living quarters. The explosion was caused by natural gas leaking from a two-inch-diameter pipeline main that had been fractured by rocks in the ditch where it had been installed by Avista in 1981.

Garage at 206 N. Birch St. after natural gas pipeline explosion - from WUTC staff investigation report, 5/13/10

Roger Reyes and Cassandra McClure were visiting Mr. Reyes’ family home when they entered the detached garage to smoke, and investigators determined later that leaking natural gas from the adjacent pipeline in the back alley was ignited by match, lighter, cigarette, or a light switch or static electricity. Reyes required treatment at Harborview Burn Center in Seattle.

Avista promptly investigated, evacuated individuals in the vicinity, excavated the damaged pipe section and notified the Washington State Utilities and Transportation Commission, which has regulatory oversight. Reyes’ and McClure’s Moses Lake, Wash. attorney ultimately settled their claims privately with Avista. However, on 6/8/10 the Commission released its complaint against Avista related to the explosion. It charged that Avista violated state regulations first by originally locating the pipeline section in a ditch which didn’t provide firm support for and didn’t prevent damage to the pipeline; and also by removing the fractured pipeline prior to state authorization, after the explosion. Avista serves 146,000 natural gas and 232,000 electric customers, mainly in Eastern Washington.

KEY DOCUMENTS: Proposed Settlement Agreement between Avista Utilities and Washington State Utilities and Transportation Commission, 2/3/11; WUTC investigation, 5/13/10.

KEY FINDINGS:

  • The proposed settlement of 2/3/11 between Commission staff and Avista requires official approval by WUTC commissioners to take effect. If approved as currently proposed, the agreement would include several provisions.
  • Avista would pay a penalty to the Commission of $200,000 for rules violations detailed in the complaint, with payment due not later than 15 days after WUTC commissioners approve the settlement agreement.
  • Avista would conduct additional training in written form and via workshops for city, county and state personnel (or their inspectors) responsible for excavations in the vicinity of the affected pipeline, known as the “Aldyl A” pipeline. The intent would be to emphasize the importance of support under and around natural gas pipelines through the proper use of backfill and soil compaction, to reduce the risk of damage and pipeline rupture.
  • Avista would inspect and report on soil composition for its pipeline support capabilities when excavations to lay natural gas pipelines are performed in business districts in the vicinity of the Aldyl A pipeline, in which annual leak surveys are performed.
  • Avista would do annual leak surveys for the next three years and periodically thereafter, of Aldyl A mains installed before 1987, and evaluate the results by type of pipe and other factors in order to identify maintenance trends and related issues of concern.
  • Each party to the settlement agreement would let the other side review any news or publicity materials related to the agreement, prior to release.

State Auditor Warns City of Ocean Shores About Finances

by Matt Rosenberg January 6th, 2011

SUMMARY: According to a report from the office of Washington State Auditor Brian Sonntag, The City of Ocean Shores has been engaging in poor financial practices, including over-budget spending in its general fund, spending down city cash reserves, depletion of special funds, making inter-fund loans with no plans for repayment, and nearly doubling its debt from 2006 through 2009.

BACKGROUND: The Office of the State Auditor in Washington has raised concerns about expenditures in excess of appropriations and shrinking cash reserves in the City of Ocean Shores in 2006, 2007 and 2008 audits. A recently-released audit covering 2009 and including financial data up to 10/31/10, amplifies and adds to those concerns.

KEY LINK: Financial Statements Audit Report On City Of Ocean Shores, Washington, Washington State Auditor’s Office, 12/20/10

KEY FINDINGS:

  • The city’s long term debt has nearly doubled, from $37.9 million in 2006 to $72.9 million in 2009. Annual debt payments constitute 20 percent of the city’s budget.
  • The city projected higher revenues than were actually received. Turnover in the city’s Finance Director position resulted in the city not getting timely information to help it oversee the budget and coordinate expenditures with income; and led to unauthorized loans from one city fund to another. An example is unauthorized inter-fund loans, without required City Council approval by resolution, of $90,150 in 2007 and $40,870 in 2009 to the city’s Convention and Tourism Fund.
  • As of 10/31/10, the city had 10 special funds with negative balances totaling $1,183,265; the largest negative balance being $698,984 in the Storm Drainage Utility Fund. The deficit funds have been propped up with inter-fund loans from the city’s Water Capital Improvement Fund, but the city has failed to establish debt repayment schedules.
  • The city’s ending cash balance has dwindled from $2.28 million in 2007 to$1.18 million in 2008, to $680,480 in 2009 to $116,651 on 10/31/10. Expenditures have exceeded income in the city’s general fund for three years running, by $144,284 in 2007, $1.482 million in 2008, and $349,122 in 2009.
  • The city is at risk of failing to meet its obligations at current service levels, including inter-fund loan payments, and may have to borrow as a result, adding costs for rate payers and taxpayers. Failure to repay inter-fund loans would constitute permanent diversion of funds.
  • The city should develop a comprehensive, formal written plan to address it’s budgetary woes; to monitor the city’s financial condition to see that plan is followed; and should establish and maintain a debt repayment schedule for inter-fund loans.
  • The city concurs with the audit findings. Council, management and staff ‘”are also very concerned about the city’s financial condition.” The city will aim to boost revenues, cut expenditures and rebuild fund balances.In 2010 the city laid of 10 employees , and other non-public safety employees took 27 unpaid furlough days. In 2010 Ocean Shores voters approved new funding for emergency care and to sustain library operations through 2012. The city pledges to institute robust and transparent monthly financial reporting to improve oversight by staff and elected officials, and to avoid inter-fund lending or at least to formally adopt repayment schedules if it does continue to occur.

Terrorism Preparedness Grant For Snohomish County

by Matt Rosenberg December 13th, 2010

SUMMARY: The Snohomish County Council is in the process of approving the county’s receipt of a $1.895 million federal grant to enhance preparedness for possible terrorist attacks in Snohomish County involving chemical, biological, nuclear or explosive devices. The money would be used for improvements to the county sheriff’s helicopter, the county’s back-up emergency operations center, for a Heavy Rescue Apparatus vehicle, SWAT counter-terrorism training of sheriff’s officers, and medical, logistics and cross-jurisdictional terrorism response planning.

A Heavy Rescue Apparatus vehicle

BACKGROUND: On 12/27/10, according to the meeting agenda, the Snohomish County Council ’s Law and Justice/Human Services committee will consider a recommendation from County Executive Aaron Reardon the the county council receipt for use in calendar year 2011 of a $1,895,010 Urban Area Security Initiative terrorism preparedness grant to Snohomish County from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, delivered through the Washington State Military Department.

These DHS grants are provided nationally for key urban areas considered to be higher-priority terrorism targets and to strengthen response capabilities to attacks involving chemical, biological, nuclear or explosive devices. Recipients in Washington state are the cities of Seattle and Bellevue and the counties of Snohomish, King and Pierce.

KEY LINK: Proposed Motion 10-587 agenda packet for Snohomish County Council Law and Justice/Human Services Committee meeting, regarding Urban Area Security Initiative grant.

KEY PROVISIONS:

  • If the committee and then the county council approve the grant, the funds will be used for several purposes.
  • Purchase, install and test airframe engine equipment to improve the performance of the Snohomish County Sheriff’s helicopter.
  • Purchase and test a Heavy Rescue Apparatus for the Snohomish County Technical Rescue Force for use in the event of an attack involving chemical, biological, nuclear or explosive devices or weapons of mass destruction.
  • Purchase, install and test new generator wiring and an extended regional fiber optic network – both for Snohomish County’s back-up Emergency Operations Center.
  • Conduct medical operations and logistics planning in order to be fully prepared to manage resources, and patient movements, identify facilities and prioritize equipment to be used, in the event of a terrorist attack.
  • Do Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) counter-terrorist training and exercises for county sheriff’s personnel.
  • Coordinate with other urban areas and state to meet needs of vulnerable groups and heighten awareness of community response priorities in the event of a terrorist attack.

Idaho Nat’l Lab: “Transforming The Energy Infrastructure”

by Andrew Hart November 15th, 2010

SUMMARY: In a July, 2010 report the U.S. Department of Energy’s Idaho National Laboratory advanced a five point strategy for the country to meet ambitious greenhouse gas reduction goals in a way that best serves U.S. economic and security objectives. Key recommendations include: reduce energy consumption fractionally each year; cut gasoline and diesel consumption 70 percent from 2009 levels by 2050; continue to replace coal-fired electric power with that produced from renewable energy sources; increase use of nuclear power to produce electricity; and if technically feasible, deploy carbon-capture and sequestration technology for “clean coal”-derived electricity. The cost of the comprehensive plan detailed in the INL report would be about $3.85 trillion over forty years and would entail a 54 percent increase in the cost of energy by 2050. However, the INL report posits that the costs are justifiable because the strategy would comprise a self-sufficient, predictable and secure approach to meeting our nation’s future energy and greenhouse gas emission reduction needs, versus the current unsustainable approach.

Figure E-2, Emissions Reductions Required To Meet Objectives

Public Data Ferret On KOMO 1000: The High Level Nuclear Waste Disposal Challenge

by Matt Rosenberg September 3rd, 2010

On my latest regular weekly KOMO-AM 1000 segment featuring the work of our Public Data Ferret project, Wednesday Sept. 1, I spoke with co-anchor Nancy Barrick and guest anchor Bill Rice about the challenge the U.S. faces in developing a policy for long term disposal of high level nuclear waste. The conversation stemmed from a white paper published at the Ferret site. Here’s the audio of the radio segment. The transcript follows.

Public Data Ferret On KOMO 1000: Oversight Of Federal Resource Lands Lax, Says Watchdog Agency

by Matt Rosenberg July 28th, 2010

Today on my regular weekly segment with “Nine2Noon” co-anchors Brian Calvert and Nancy Barrick on Seattle’s KOMO-AM 1000 highlighting the work of our Public Data Ferret project, we talked about testimony delivered recently by a government watchdog agency that the U.S. Department of the Interior has been lax in managing federal resource lands leased to energy companies for oil and natural gas production. Here’s the audio of today’s radio segment, and here’s my original Ferret write-up of the testimony. The radio transcript follows.

Brian Calvert: “As crews continue to cap spills and clean up oil along the Gulf Coast, Congress is being reminded of major reforms that are long overdue. Matt Rosenberg, with communityforums.org, joins us. Matt, in testimony last week, Congress actually heard some specifics from the Government Accountability Office. Let’s talk about these specifics. The Government Accountability Office was pretty critical when it came to the fact that regular environmental inspections aren’t performed.”

Matt Rosenberg: “They were indeed, Brian, and the Government Accountability Office is kind of the conscience of Congress and the nation and they’ve issued 27 reports since 2004 with suggestions (on oil and gas lease regulation) and last week they reminded a House committee of what needs to be done. For one thing, the rates that are charged are too low, on the royalties paid by private companies that lease federal lands to produce natural gas and oil. Also, late payments go undetected. GAO pointed out the Department of Interior is the oversight agency here, and their IT system can’t even tell if the lease payments are coming in late. The environmental oversight is poor. Inspections too often just haven’t been done for onshore oil and gas leases, partly because department staff at Interior were too busy processing drilling permits. On top of that, the metering equiment is not checked, so they can’t really tell if the lease payments being made are for the right amount. And then, this is the one that really got me, guys. There’s a fudge factor. The current law allows the leaseholders to independently change their previously entered data on production levels and royalties owed. So in essence they can fudge the figures if they want. It’s just a real head-scratcher.”

Public Data Ferret On KOMO 1000: Global Energy Use And Carbon Dioxide Emissions, 2005-2035

by Matt Rosenberg July 7th, 2010

On my regular weekly radio segment on KOMO 1000 News Radio in Seattle featuring the work of our Public Data Ferret project, yesterday I spoke with “Nine2Noon” anchor Brian Calvert about a recent report on global energy consumption and carbon dioxide emissions over the next several decades. Here’s the original Ferret write-up on the report, and here’s the audio of the on-air segment. The transcript follows.

Brian Calvert: “So are we as a planet learning to conserve more energy? A report by the U.S. Energy Department says, overall, not really. Matt Rosenberg of communityforums.org – where you can use their feature The Public Data Ferret – joins us on the line. And Matt, this week the Ferret has taken a closer look at that report on future global energy use. Tell us what you found.”

Matt Rosenberg: “Well you bet Brian. This was a real eye-opener. The 2010 International Energy Outlook should serve as a potent reminder that getting a grip on energy consumption and carbon dioxide emissions will require truly global action, especially including the developing nations of Eurasia, Asia, Africa, Central and South America. Now, one of the base case projections, getting right to the findings here, is that from 2005 to 2035, total global energy use will grow 56 percent, and a rate four times greater in developing nations than in the more mature economies.

“And then coal, Brian. Everyone is keeping an eye on the use of coal because it’s one of the dirtier sources out there. And coal use will level off in the more mature economies but it will more than double by 2035 in the emerging world. And then the real kicker, carbon dioxide emissions. Same story. major growth in the developing nations, leveling off in the more mature economies. China, having a huge impact in the growth of carbon dioxide emissions.”

Brian Calvert: “Matt, I was looking through the report this morning and the thing that caught my eye is it seems like all of the messages of conservation and all the things that we’ve done here in this country, those messages seem to be being heard, but it’s the rest of the world where either the message isn’t getting out or they just have no other choice than keeping creating energy in the way they currently are, and at the rates that they currently are.”

Matt Rosenberg: “Well it’s a real thorny dilemma and a U.S. climate bill isn’t nearly the half of it all. Conservation, efficiency and technology are really important, but, you know, so too is going to be good policy and global political leadership on this, which as we know, is a huge challenge. So, I think nobody really wants to impose a blanket solution. It’s not smart or possible. But I will tell you this, Brian, I think a huge fork in the road for many nations will be the choice between a so-called ‘cap and trade’ strategy versus a carbon tax, which some economists say is a better approach. But, the real kicker is the developing nations want the developed nations to pay for cleaning up their energy supplies. And with the budget and debt issues that Europe and United States are facing, I just don’t see that happening.”