Hermiston Energy Services recommends new substation

Electrical equipment at a substation near the Umatilla Electric Cooperative office on West Elm Avenue helps supply power to Umatilla Electric and Hermiston Energy Service.

After 45 years with PNGC Power, Umatilla Electric Cooperative is striking out on its own for power purchases.

UEC announced on Monday, Sept. 28, that it would be “amicably” parting ways with PNGC Power. The Hermiston-based cooperative was one of the founding members of the larger cooperative, then known as Pacific Northwest Generating Cooperative, in 1975.

PNGC is made up of 15 — now 14 — utilities across seven states, allowing those utilities to use their combined clout to better bargain for wholesale power, equipment and new technology. UEC’s decision to leave means that it will be purchasing power directly from Bonneville Power Administration and other sources rather than being part of a collective purchase through PNGC Power.

Robert Echenrode, UEC general manager, said UEC’s rapid growth has made it by far the largest of the cooperatives involved in PNGC, and has in some cases pushed it up into different regulatory categories. That has complicated things for PNGC, and sometimes meant that UEC is looking for different things than other cooperatives.

“Size isn’t everything, but our needs were different than other cooperatives,” he said.

Echenrode said UEC was also looking at moving to more renewable energy on a quicker time frame than some other cooperatives, located in states that didn’t necessarily have the same pressures to do so.

Those factors over time caused UEC to begin discussions with PNGC about possibly leaving when PNGC’s fiscal year ended at the end of September. Echenrode said the past 18 months have involved careful conversations with the two organizations, along with Bonneville Power Administration and other potential suppliers, to make sure the move didn’t hurt PNGC or UEC customers.

“We did not want to cause financial hardship to the group or any members of the group,” he said.

He said while UEC’s customers shouldn’t notice any difference after the change, on UEC’s end it will allow for more flexibility and a more tailored strategy for purchasing power.

Roger Gray, CEO of PNGC Power, said in a statement that all parties have been working for a smooth transition.

“While it is always disappointing to lose a member, I think early termination is fair to all concerned,” he said. “PNGC has valued UEC as a member and they leave PNGC in good standing. I wish the UEC organization and team all the best in their new journey.”

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