DPU sees many changes in 2008

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By Special to the Monitor

  The Department of Public Utilities went through some vast changes in 2008, with power outages throughout the county proving to be a challenge. The department has seen leadership transition, growth of in-house engineering staff, water, electric and gas infrastructure improvements, the unification of county & utility customer services to form the 311Customer Care Center and various other changes. With these changes in place, the DPU is hoping to be better able to serve the citizens of Los Alamos County.

  The Department of Public Utilities is the only 4-service utility in New Mexico providing water, electricity, natural gas and wastewater services. Highlights for 2008 across these service lines are as follows:

•    311Customer Care Center established — Unification of county and utilities customer service functions for lower costs and greater efficiencies.

•    Renewable energy feasibility study conducted – DPU and LANL explore solar energy “bright fields” feasibility.

•    El Vado & Abiquiu hydroelectric plants at high glows – Maximum hydroelectric generation from these county-owned plants made possible by record-high snowmelt.

•    Key national conservation relationships formed – DPU partners with the Environmental Protection Agency’s Energy Star and Water Sense programs for electric and water conservation leadership.  DPU also become charter a member of the National Alliance for Water Efficiency.

•    Earth Day celebrated with Eco-Jeopardy – DPU sponsored and participated in the Pajarito Environmental Education Center’s annual Earth Day festival with record levels of participation in conservation education activity and prizes.

•    Downtown Circuit 17 expanded – Electric line crews modernized another segment of the Downtown’s electric backbone near the 20th and Deacon Street area.

•    Online credit card payments accepted – DPU partnered with Paymentus to enable online credit card payment or telephone e-check payment of utility bills.

•    Half million dollars awarded for L.A. Reservoir work – The DPU applied for and was awarded roughly $500,000 from the New Mexico Water Trust Board for dam repairs at the L.A. Reservoir.  

•    Seamless leadership transition accomplished – Utilities Manager Robert “Buck” Monday retired and long-time Deputy Utilities Manager John E. Arrowsmith was selected as the new, incoming Utilities Manager. Arrowsmith named Janet Bettinger Deputy UM for Finance; Steve Cummins Deputy UM for Power Supply and Distribution; and James Alarid Deputy UM for Capital Projects.

•    Electric infrastructure group formed – A kick-off Fuller Lodge breakfast meeting for business leaders and citizens concerning long-term electric infrastructure plans was held, creating the EIG community of interest. Subsequent white papers and other communiqués throughout 2008 kept this group of more than 200 informed.

•    Gopher Workshops Drew SRO Crowd – A collaborative educational session on conservation-smart and humane gopher management techniques was held with NMSU’s Los Alamos Extension office.

•    WattSwap Launched – DPU partnered with PEEC to administer a light bulb trade; three standard bulbs for three compact fluorescent bulbs using 1/9th the energy.

•    Demolition of Pueblo Canyon Wastewater Treatment Plant proceeds – Demolition of the former plant, visible from Walnut Street and Orange Street areas proceeded to enable future natural re-growth in the area.

•    Water and electric rates increased – A 5 percent electric rate increase and 10 percent water rate increase (wholesale; about 7 percent passed through to customers) was approved by the Utilities Board and the County Council. Los Alamos DPU’s rates remain comparable to neighboring communities, in compliance with the Charter’s mandate for the Department.

•    Abiquiu Hydroelectric Plant welcomed visitors – Tours of this county asset that generates 5-10 percent of the county’s power were held for Abiquiu campers and other participants during Public Lands Day.

•    L.A. Green membership grows – DPU welcomed Los Alamos Public Schools’ Barranca Mesa Elementary to this renewable energy program, formulating the ordinance to open the program to both schools and county government participants.

•    Payment conveniences with LANB – DPU partnered with Los Alamos National Bank for ATM, live teller and night drop box services, making utility bill payment even more convenient.

•    Engineering staff growth – Rafael De La Torre was hired. With more than 15 years experience in Northern New Mexico electric cooperative, De La Torre was hired to enhance electric reliability and projects.

•    Abiquiu low flow turbine bid solicitation released – Construction of the new low-flow turbine at Abiquiu will both qualify the DPU as a producer of renewable energy per the 2005 Environmental Policy Act, and maximize hydroelectric generation.

•    Engineering staff growth – New Engineer for Capital Projects hired to begin work in 2009.

•    Conservation analyses conducted for 70 apartments – Consumption audits and training for staff and residents of the Chapel Apartments revealed many opportunities for water and energy conservation, which will, are to be implemented in early 2009.

Allison Majure, with the DPU Public Relations Department contributed to this report.