New face and pace of Truckee utility district | SierraSun.com

New face and pace of Truckee utility district

Jenny Goldsmith
Sierra Sun
Jenny Goldsmith/Sierra SunNew General Manager Michael Holley of the Truckee Donner Public Utility District said Wednesday his goals are to create a district that subsidizes renewable energy, focuses on customer service and keeps electric and water costs down for ratepayers.
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Since taking the helm of a public utility district that hadn’t seen a new manager in 23 years, Michael Holley has been steadily putting his stamp on the Truckee Donner Public Utility District.

During his first five months on the job, Holley has made his vision for the district clear: an organization that communicates well with the public, provides good customer service and focuses on green energy to keep electricity costs down.

“I want to improve what we have in place, not change it into something completely different,” Holley said during an interview Wednesday. “I have some pretty strong ideas about customer service.”

The district’s new “neighborhood meetings” to solicit customer feedback are one example of the district’s new direction. So is additional staff training, more efficient board meetings and a new employee who provides the public information and focuses on conservation programs, Holley said.

In response to a recent Nevada County Grand Jury report addressing a complaint against the district in 2002, Holley said he has begun revising and updating the entire district code to resolve the dispute and provide greater clarity for the future.

“One of the things the district has been criticized for in the past is its lack of openness,” Holley said. “I want there to be a large focus on openness. I want people to think of the district as a world-class organization.”

In addition to the ideas already instituted, Holley said his energy goals for the future revolve around the 12,000 utility district ratepayers.

“One of my goals is to keep rate increases equal to or less than the cost of inflation. It’s not easy, but controlled costs are part of customer service,” he said.

To accomplish this goal, Holley said he is adding renewable energy to the district’s power portfolio, reducing spending in the open power market and hedging price risks so customers don’t see rate increases.

In the near future Holley said he will also bring in a water leak detection agency to give direction on which main pipelines need replaced to “make the system tighter, and to save water and energy.”

“The single most important thing for me right now is looking at the reserve policy,” Holley said. “We need to adjust the size of our financial reserves to balance the spikes in power costs.”

As far as the ongoing broadband Internet venture, Holley said his goal is to maximize revenue by possibly leasing some district-owned fiber and conduit to existing providers so “ratepayers see a return on their investments.”

“I think this area is somewhat under-served as far as Internet providers,” Holley said. “But is the district going to go into broadband service itself? Absolutely not.”

Holley is not the only one to embrace these changes. District customers and regular board meeting attendees are looking forward to the new direction.

“There’s the PUD of old and now there’s the PUD of new,” said Dan Warren, general manager of the Glenshire Devonshire Residents Association. “They are becoming more customer-service oriented instead of a ‘we have control’ attitude.”

“They are in the evolution process now and we’re starting to see changes. I think it’s been very positive so far,” Warren added.

The Truckee Donner Public Utility District board of directors have announced the selection of Steven Poncelet as the new public information and conservation manager.

Poncelet served his first day with the district Wednesday, and said he is looking forward to broadening communication efforts between the district and its customers, as well as expanding conservation programs.

“One of my goals is to spend time in the community meeting with customers and key stakeholders,” Poncelet said. “I want an open door policy with anyone in the community who has an issue with us.”

Poncelet said his work as a mechanical engineer and market analyst with Pacific Gas and Electric and background with the Sierra Business Council as vice president of operations and development directly coincides with his new public utility duties.

“I want to increase the visibility of conservation programs and make them more integrated with day to day operations,” Poncelet said. “We need to take these programs to the next level.”