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Eugene Weekly : Viewpoint : 8.25.11




The Untold Story

EPUD’s record of exceptional service

By Bill Tanner

Readers of Eugene Weekly have every right to shake their heads at the contentious issues reported by Nils Holst (8/11 and 8/18) regarding the Emerald People’s Utility District (EPUD) Board of Directors, the general manager and unfounded allegations made by disgruntled former employees. I found his article incomplete however, as it omitted any recognition of the exceptional work being done by current EPUD employees on behalf of EPUD’s customer-owners.

While I don’t have the room to address every accusation leveled against the utility, I can relate that amidst the challenges facing the board and general manager, EPUD’s hard-working employees continue to earn high marks, and continue to improve quality and reliability of service to customers.

In a 2011 Customer Satisfaction survey, 93 percent of customer-owners rate EPUD’s overall performance as good or excellent. In 2011, average EPUD residential rates were 22.4 percent lower than those of Pacific Power; 2010 yields at EPUD-operated Short Mountain Methane Power Plant were 23 percent higher than 2009 and are on track to beat that in 2011; Customer Service now answers 80 percent of all calls within 30 seconds. EPUD awarded $55,000 in Energy Assistance funds in 2011 to help low-income customers.

In 2010, the Operations Department improved 2,000 span of line; EPUD clears all 1,920 miles of line in the district every three years with in-house tree crews; EPUD substations are now protected by anti-theft fencing and all substations have redundant feeds for reliability. We have also added loop feeds between substations for additional back-up during outages. This has all happened within the past 12 years. 

It’s also important to note that through all the various conflicts, we members of the board share the unwavering commitment to service by performing our roles as responsible fiscal managers. In the past 10 years, EPUD has increased available cash by $4.7 million and decreased long-term debt by $12.4 million. EPUD’s green power program ranks consistently as one of the most affordable in the nation and our energy conservation programs have helped customers conserve more than 50 million kilowatt hours since 1985. 

These are just a few examples of the good things EPUD employees and the board do every day to serve the district. In the mire of “he said, she said” and newspaper reporting, it’s easy for readers, customer-owners, and the public to lose site of what the entire EPUD organization does, and how well it does it.

That’s not to say there is no room for improvement. Relationships are key. As a group, the board has worked with various consultants to help bridge the communications issues between all parties. I know I speak for the entire board when I say we will continue to work hard to cooperate in the best interest of our customer-owners.

Since EPUD was founded 28 years ago, many wonderful people have come to work for the utility. Our average length of current employee tenure is 14 years of service. Many of the employees who have been with the district since the beginning have retired or will soon retire. 

In regard to the allegations of low employee morale and toxic work environment, I simply do not see that. Employee survey results are mostly positive with some areas for improvement. While it’s impossible to make everyone happy, EPUD makes every effort to support its team in support of our customer-owners.

As with any business, employees retire, move on to other jobs, or are terminated for a variety of reasons as a last resort. While we cannot discuss why one individual has left employment with the district, it is important to know that during the current general manager’s tenure, EPUD has never been sued for wrongful termination or been accused of violating hiring policies set by the board of directors. 

I hope this “other” snapshot of EPUD provides some balance to EW’s and other media stories about controversies in the district. Day-to-day, EPUD employees and board members are successfully working together to fulfill our mission to provide affordable power to our customer-owners. That, in and of itself, should have EW readers and others nodding their heads as well.

Bill Tanner has served on the EPUD board for the past 12 years, representing Subdistrict 3.