Federal Judge Dismisses Cryptominers’ Suit against Grant PUD
Grant PUD (Ephrata, Wash.) did not discriminate against nor violate constitutional rights of cryptocurrency mining operations by charging them and other higher-risk, “evolving industries” more for their electricity, a federal judge ruled.
U.S. District Court Judge Rosanna Malouf Peterson’s ruling dismisses the lawsuit against Grant PUD filed in December 2018 by a group of cryptocurrency mining operators who argued that Grant PUD’s commission-approved Rate Schedule 17 and the public process to create it deprived them of due process and violated their rights.
“Washington law gives public utility districts ‘full and exclusive authority’ to set rates,” Grant PUD General Counsel Mitch Delabarre said. “Grant PUD exercised its rate-setting authority to address an unprecedented level of requests for service from evolving industries. This allowed Grant PUD to serve evolving industries without shifting increased costs to other customers. We are pleased the court agreed with Grant PUD’s exercise of discretion by dismissing the case.”
The plaintiffs can appeal the ruling or refile their suit in a state court.
Rate Schedule 17 is the product of more than a year of public process and intensive analysis by Grant PUD staff to accommodate an explosive increase in requests for electric service by operators of these energy-intense mining operations. Their requests coincided with a dramatic spike in the value of bitcoin, a leading type of cryptocurrency.
Since the first of the rate’s three-year phase-in period took effect in April 2019, the price of bitcoin has fallen. The industry’s demand for electricity has declined in Grant County, reducing the industry’s associated levels of risk locally. On March 10, commissioners approved revised rate increases that are lower than originally proposed but still provide needed protections for both Grant PUD and its customers.
Utility Responses to COVID-19
Thank you to all of our NWPPA members who have shared their policies and practices concerning COVID-19. The following is a clearinghouse of the news releases we have received this past week. We are sharing these here for your information and as a resource for anyone looking to also implement a similar practice. Please send any releases or office updates to firstname.lastname@example.org so we can continue to disseminate this information to our valued membership.
(March 16) Due to recent state declarations to minimize the spread of COVID-19 (coronavirus), the Okanogan County PUD (Okanogan, Wash.) offices will be closed to the public on March 17 until further notice.
We ask that customers use alternate methods of payment.
(March 16) In an effort to reduce the transmission risk of COVID-19, Placer County Water Agency (Auburn, Calif.) announced today that it is closing its business center lobbies until further notice. PCWA staff remains available to assist customers via telephone or electronic mail (e-mail).
(March 16) In an effort to slow the spread of the COVID-19 virus, the Eugene Water & Electric Board will close its Customer Service lobby to the public starting Tuesday, March 17.
This decision follows a great deal of deliberation, and was made to protect employees and customers by reducing the risk of contracting and/or transmitting the virus. EWEB’s first priority is keeping customers and employees safe and well-informed while minimizing the spread of the coronavirus.
(March 17) Access to campsites at Grant PUD’s (Ephrata, Wash.) five campgrounds is closed until further notice as a precaution against the threat of Coronavirus (COVID-19). Grant PUD provides 20 recreation areas for the public along or near the Columbia River. Five of the utility’s recreation areas offer overnight camping for visitors.
The impacted recreation areas include Crescent Bar, Rocky Coulee, Sand Hollow, Priest Rapids Recreation Area, and the Jackson Creek Fish Camp.
(March 17) Chelan County PUD (Wenatchee, Wash.) commissioners on Monday reviewed actions being taken to respond to the risk of coronavirus spreading in the community.
General Manager Steve Wright gave a detailed update on the steps being taken to protect customers and employees during the coronavirus pandemic. Following last week’s decision to close office lobbies and public meeting rooms, Wright outlined this week’s focus.
(March 17) OTEC (Baker City, Ore.) is closely monitoring the developments of the coronavirus COVID-19 and continuing to take precautions to protect the public and our employees. For the health and safety of the communities we serve, OTEC will be closing its four offices in Baker City, La Grande, John Day, and Burns to the public on Tuesday, March 17, at 5 p.m. The offices will remain closed to walk-in traffic until further notice. The drive-through window at our La Grande district office will remain open. Appointments for in-person business will be available by calling (541) 523-3616.
To further the support for our members impacted during this time, OTEC is temporarily suspending late fees and disconnections. Please call our offices at (541) 523-3616 if you are having difficulty paying your electric bill, we will work with you to set up a payment plan. Your cooperative will continue to evaluate other ways to support our members for the duration of this quickly evolving public health emergency.
(March 17) In response to the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, effective March 18, all Douglas PUD (East Wenatchee, Wash.) facilities will be closed to the public until further notice. Douglas PUD provides essential utility services to our community. We take our responsibility seriously and want to minimize possible exposure to our employees and customers.
The utility will maintain regular staffing and hours with customer service being provided through the drive-up, telephone communications, online, and mobile device access. Utility operations crews will continue field work and respond to power outages and will continue to make power restorations in the safest and quickest manner possible. The March 23 commission meeting will be conducted through conference call. Please see the Draft Agenda posted on our website the Friday before the meeting under Latest News for details.
(March 17) Energy Northwest (Richland, Wash.) continues to monitor the evolving COVID-19 developments that our community and nation are experiencing. Our first priority remains the safety and well-being of our employees and the public. We are following the guidelines provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Washington state Department of Health and have a robust pandemic procedure in place. While we currently have no challenges to maintaining operations of our generating facilities, we are taking rigorous actions to ensure we continue to provide essential electricity to the region during this challenging time.
As of now, Energy Northwest non-essential employees are able to voluntarily telecommute as their jobs allow, and we have processes to keep them informed and productively engaged.
(March 17) The Grays Harbor PUD (Aberdeen, Wash.) Board of Commissioners has passed a resolution declaring a state of emergency as the utility deals with the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. The commissioners approved the resolution at a special board meeting on Tuesday that allows General Manager Dave Ward to take “appropriate and legal action to ensure the health and safety of utility employees and the public.”
“The goal of this resolution is to allow for swift and necessary action to protect utility staff and ensure our ability to provide critical utility services to the public,” said Board President Russ Skolrood. “The severity of the situation calls for the board to undertake unprecedented measures to ensure a safe environment, a healthy staff, and our ability to serve our customers.”
(March 18) Salem Electric (Ore.) is closely monitoring information from the Centers for Disease Control, and federal, state, and local agencies regarding the Coronavirus (COVID-19). For the health and safety of the communities we serve, Salem Electric has temporarily closed the office lobby to the public until further notice. Representatives are still available by phone or email during regular business hours.
To further support members impacted by COVID-19, Salem Electric is temporarily suspending late fees and disconnects. If a member is having difficulty paying their bill in full or on time, we encourage them to contact us at (503) 362-3601 to set up a payment plan. Those who need additional financial assistance may qualify for our Winter Heating Assistance Program. To learn more, visit SalemElectric.com.
(March 18) In response to the escalating concerns about public safety and the COVID-19 pandemic, SMUD (Sacramento, Calif.) is closing all buildings to the public and will handle all customer business online at SMUD.org and via phone channels. Most importantly though, while SMUD buildings will be closed to the public, all SMUD outage response levels remain unchanged and all functions necessary to run the power system will operate as normal.
The building closures are effective immediately through at least April 17 and include SMUD’s Customer Service Center and lobby at 6301 S Street, Headquarters building, and East Campus-Operations Center.
(March 18) In response to growing health and economic concerns due to COVID-19, the Lewis County PUD (Chehalis, Wash.) Board of Commissioners, comprised of Ben Kostick, Tim Cournyer, and Ed Rothlin, directed staff to reduce customer bills by up to $1.2 million.
Kostick said, “Our PUD is a community-driven organization. We’ve been tightening our belt and making strategic investments that allow us to offer this relief during a time when our customers need it most.”
(March 19) Grant PUD (Ephrata, Wash.) urges customers having difficulties paying their power bills to call its customer service line at (509) 766-2505 or email email@example.com.
By calling, customer service representatives will be able to discuss resources and options for assistance with bills.
“The worst thing a customer can do is avoid calling us when they are having difficulty paying their Grant PUD bill,” said Terry McKenzie, Grant PUD’s senior manager of Customer Service. “We want to work with our customers and help them, especially in this time when we know so many people are struggling.”
(March 19) Placer County Water Agency (Auburn, Calif.) released the following statement today regarding Agency operations in response to Placer County guidance on COVID-19:
“Following the ‘shelter in place’ directive issued today by Placer County, PCWA is transitioning to modified operations for employees and customers. Deliveries of drinking water will not be impacted by these modified operations and continue to meet all state and federal drinking water standards. Canal water deliveries will also not be affected.”
(March 19) Chelan County PUD (Wenatchee, Wash.) is taking more steps to help customer-owners manage financial and social impacts from the COVID-19 pandemic. General Manager Steve Wright announced Thursday that there will be no power, water, or sewer service disconnects, and that late payment fees also will be waived until further notice.
Chelan PUD’s first priority is to keep delivering essential utility services, Wright said. That effort supports the work by other community leaders and public health experts to protect the community and help lower the risks faced by all.
(March 20) The OPALCO (Eastsound, Wash.) Board of Directors suspended late fees on member bills and service disconnects to support members affected by COVID-19 effective immediately and for the next 60 days. A full COVID-19 program is quickly being developed to ensure reliable power delivery in the islands as disruptions and human impacts multiply and to address longer-term challenges.
“OPALCO is doing all we can to help our membership,” said Foster Hildreth, general manager. “We’re working with our local organizations and on all levels (county, state, and the federal government), looking for additional resources to bring to our communities and ways to maximize the benefits to our members. The board has dedicated restricted funding to help our members through the pandemic.”
(March 20) Keeping the lights on and providing customer service remain the priorities for the Grays Harbor PUD (Aberdeen, Wash.) as the utility adapts to the new reality of business amidst the COVID-19 crisis.
“Utility crews continue to maintain the PUD system and respond to outages and our customer service office has changed some practices but continue to work with our customers,” said General Manager Dave Ward. “The utility will adapt to this new reality and continue to provide the critical services our customers expect.”
(March 20) Chelan County PUD (Wenatchee, Wash.) Parks Manager Ryan Baker said Friday that staff are making a few changes in operations to protect visitors and employees and to help reduce the risk of spreading the coronavirus.
In the meantime, PUD-operated parks remain open including trails, boat launches, and restrooms, which are being cleaned more often to reduce health risks.
(March 23) In response to the COVID-19 outbreak, Snohomish County PUD (Everett, Wash.) has developed a COVID Community Support Plan to help customers struggling to pay their electric and water bills. The plan makes funds available for both residential and small business customers affected by the COVID outbreak.
“We know these are challenging times for some of our customers and we want to ensure that we are helping support those that need help,” said John Haarlow, Snohomish PUD CEO/GM. “We are all in this together and as a provider of a critical service we play an important role, one which we take seriously.”