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Triple digits in Wenatchee: When energy use spikes, here's how to cool your cooling bill
Provided graphic/National Weather Service 

Heat exhaustion and heat stroke are things to be wary of during high temperatures. The National Weather Service provides information on social media on what to look out for and how to respond.

 

WENATCHEE — It’s hot, so you crank up the air conditioning, evaporative cooler, fans — anything to stay cool and prevent heat related illness.

The electric bill may go up from its spring or fall amount, but chances are, the wintertime heating bill is probably even higher. So maybe you don’t need to panic. Maybe.

“We’re a winter-peaking utility, which means that Chelan County customers use the most energy when it’s coldest outside,” wrote Rachel Hansen, Chelan County PUD spokesperson, in an email. “Our all-time record for peak energy use was 491 MW (megawatts) on Jan. 5, 2017, when it was -1.4 F degrees recorded at Saddlerock Substation.”

The PUD’s highest summer peak was 276 megawatts during the heatwave last year, on June 29, when temperatures were recorded at 119.2 at Saddlerock Substation, she added. The PUD’s 12-month rolling average is about 215 megawatts.

On Wednesday, Hansen said the peak usage was 269 megawatts between 6 and 7 p.m., when Pangborn Memorial Airport recorded 105 degrees.

“Daily energy usage will increase slowly as we face warmer overnights,” she wrote.

Douglas County PUD customers also use more energy in winter months, said Meaghan Vibbert, PUD spokesperson.

Its all-time winter peak was December 2021 at 267 megawatts, on a day with a 2 degree low and 10 degree high temperature, she said. In June 2021, the PUD’s record summer peak was 186 megawatts.

People can get an estimate of their air conditioner’s energy usage at bit.ly/ACuse, an Energy Use Calculator website, which has calculators for appliances.

Griselda Gonzalez, Chelan County PUD’s energy resource and conservation representative, had many tips for keeping bills low and staying cool. One of those was switching incandescent lights with LED lights because LEDs are not as hot.

Another was to set the thermostat between 72 and 75 degrees or higher, if possible. If any cost-saving tips negatively affected someone’s health, don’t do them, she added.

“We don’t want you worrying and sweating inside your house,” she said. “Comfort is the most important thing.”

Chelan’s “Power Hour” show on Wednesday will be completely in Spanish and discuss these tips and answer questions, she said. It’s on the PUD’s Facebook and YouTube pages. People can email their questions to conservation@chelanpud.org.

As far as getting help paying the bill, the Chelan County PUD has options year-round; the Douglas County PUD does not.

Chelan’s includes short-term financial assistance, long term energy savings, payment plans and options, and bill discounts for seniors and people with disabilities. For more information, visit bit.ly/ChelanPUDconservation.

Douglas County PUD is identifying and developing conservation programs for its customers. More information will be available at bit.ly/DouglasPUD conservation when the programs become available.


Education
Summer school programs provide consistency

WENATCHEE — Wenatchee and Eastmont school districts provided another summer of programming to help keep students caught up or ahead in their education.

Representatives from each district said the time is beneficial, especially after learning setbacks during COVID.

“It just provides some consistency for our kids during the summer months,” said Diana Haglund, communications director of Wenatchee schools.

Haglund said there was a slight increase in enrollment in the program this summer, with 575 registered, but it’s on par with where they were last year. She said before COVID-19, around 300 students would typically enroll.

The Wenatchee summer program started the last week of June and caters to all K-5 students. Haglund said before COVID-19, the program was only for migrant bilingual students or students from low income families, but last year state funding allowed for anyone in the grade bracket to enroll.

Haglund said the six-week program includes field trips into the community, like the airport. She said the half-days are run so “it doesn’t feel like a normal school day, but it’s still very traditional.”

“It is all subjects so it’s interdisciplinary in its approach,” Haglund said. “They do it in a fun, creative way. There’s always a theme.”

This year the theme is cruise ship. Haglund said everything is “all about water and the places you can travel on a ship.”

Haglund said the district doesn’t know yet if the all-inclusive programming will continue, but she does suspect it will roll back to how it was pre-COVID.

The Wenatchee summer school program will run until July 28.

Eastmont Assistant Superintendent Matthew Charlton said the district’s various summer school programs had staggered starts at the end of school, and ended July 18. He said the programs are open to all students, and they go to whichever program will best help them.

“We both invite and then open up the opportunity to attend,” Charlton said. “So if kids have been struggling, we’ll invite them to different sessions.”

Charlton said the Learning Assistance Program (LAP) funds provide programming for K-5 and junior high school students in need of reading and math assistance. It also funds the high school credit retrieval program for juniors and seniors.

Grades K-5 also has a migrant program funded by the state. Charlton said those students have the option to go to either option. The migrant program focuses mainly on science, technology, engineering, arts and math (STEAM).

Charlton said the number of students enrolled was a little less than they anticipated, at around 475. He said this could be because many older students have part-time jobs, so they don’t have time.

“We do the best we can to get them here,” he said.

Charlton said he appreciates the teachers and staff who give their summers to help. He said there are around 30 faculty working, and while some are substitutes, the majority are “veteran teachers that want to help.”


News
Should you be wearing a mask? As COVID rates climb, health experts say answer is yes

SEATTLE — About four months have passed since Washington’s statewide indoor mask mandate ended, but some local infectious disease experts and state epidemiologists are hoping recent increasing case rates will remind residents not to relax measures too much.

Statewide COVID levels had been rising since mid-March and began to show signs of leveling off in mid- to late-May, according to the state Department of Health’s COVID data dashboard. As of early July, the state recorded a seven-day case rate of about 225 infections per 100,000 people, compared to about 42 per 100,000 in March.

Much of the state’s continued high level of infection is due to the rapid pace of omicron’s BA.5 subvariant, which accounted for three times as many COVID cases at the end of June compared to the start of the month.

While King County is “actively considering” if and when additional public health requirements might be necessary, there are no definite plans to return to indoor mask mandates at this point, Dr. Jeff Duchin said at a news briefing this month.

No additional requirements are currently being planned on a statewide level either, said DOH spokesperson Katie Pope, adding that the department is instead “focused on health system capacity, severity of disease in Washington state, and what is on the horizon in terms of variants.”

But mask use has seemed to drop significantly since the mandate ended in March, according to data from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, a global research center at the University of Washington. Based on a number of self-reported survey results from IHME, mask use started to decline in late January and saw a steep drop in early- to mid-March, as statewide indoor mask requirements ended.

Now, although masking remains effective at helping protect people from infection on an individual level, it’s likely doing little to curb the spread of the virus overall, said Dr. Joshua Schiffer, a clinical research professor of vaccines and infectious disease at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center.

“At an earlier stage in the pandemic response, masks were protective for those wearing them, but also for society at large because wide-scale use likely decreased the rate of spread of infection,” Schiffer said. “At this stage, mask use is very low in the highest risk environments.”

While masks are no longer required in most places — except health care, long-term care and correctional facilities — state health officials still recommend wearing them in crowded, indoor settings and confined spaces.

“My personal practice is to wear the best masks possible when it is not a great inconvenience such as in clinic, at the supermarket or on a flight,” Schiffer said. “However, like most people, I am taking measured risks and go maskless at restaurants and sporting events.”

According to recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, at least 12 Washington counties — including King, Snohomish, Thurston and Spokane — are at high community risk and should resume mask-wearing indoors in public and on public transportation.

High risk means the counties have had 200 or more new COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people in the last seven days, or they’ve had more than 20 new COVID-19 hospital admissions per 100,000 people within a seven-day period.

Rather than impose a new mandate in King County, Duchin said he hopes community members will voluntarily renew their commitment to indoor masking, distancing, good indoor air ventilation and getting vaccinated and boosted.

“COVID-19 is not one and done,” Duchin said. “We’re not going to be able to have infinite series of mandates.”

Restrictions have a role if there is a serious need for short-term and immediate improvement, he said, adding that for the long term, the public needs to take steps to protect themselves and others.

Snug-fitting, high-quality masks, including N95, KN95 or KF94 face coverings, are generally the best ones to use, according to Public Health — Seattle & King County. Residents can also use surgical masks and cloth masks with multiple layers of breathable, tightly woven fabric, though public health officials have noted they’re not as high-quality.


News
Biden pledge to tax wealthy, companies revived with Manchin-led bill

WASHINGTON, D.C. — President Joe Biden’s campaign trail promise to increase taxes on corporations and the wealthy as part of a battle against glaring income inequality in the United States got an unexpected boost on Wednesday.

Early proposals to increase tax rates from Biden and his fellow Democrats hit a brick wall in Congress after Republicans, and some Democrats, opposed them. But a sudden reversal by West Virginia Democratic Senator Joe Manchin, a swing vote in the divided Senate, has given Biden’s tax agenda a new lease on life.

The amount that U.S. companies contribute to tax revenue that funds roads and schools has plummeted since the 1940s.

Biden has often said in office that companies should instead pay a “fair share,” a contrast to deference to private markets begun by Republicans with Ronald Reagan’s election in 1980, and buoyed by rounds of tax cuts and deregulation, by both parties.

The new compromise bill includes $430 billion in new spending on energy, electric vehicle tax credits and health insurance investments. It more than pays for itself by raising minimum taxes for big companies and enforcing existing tax laws, Manchin and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said in a statement.

The bill would impose a 15% minimum tax on corporations with profits over $1 billion, raising $313 billion over a decade, they wrote. Companies could claim net operating losses and tax credits against the 15%.

The U.S. corporate tax rate dropped to 21% from 35% after a 2017 tax cut pushed by then-President Donald Trump and his fellow Republicans, but many companies pay much less than that, and some of the largest pay no federal taxes, research groups including the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy have found.

Biden proposed raising that rate to 28% last year, as part of an infrastructure spending bill, but the tax component was struck from the bill.

The new Manchin-Schumer bill also aims to close the so-called carried interest loophole, long a goal of Democrats.

Carried interest refers to a longstanding Wall Street tax break that let many private equity and hedge fund financiers pay the lower capital gains tax rate on much of their income, instead of the higher income tax rate paid by wage-earners.

Eliminating the loophole would raise $14 billion, the senators say.

Schumer said he expected the Senate to vote on the legislation next week, to “lower prescription drug prices, tackle the climate crisis with urgency and vigor, ensure the wealthiest corporations and individuals pay their fair share in taxes, and reduce the deficit.”

The Manchin-Schumer measure is substantially smaller than the multi-trillion-dollar spending bill Democrats had envisioned last year.

But it still represents a major advance for Biden’s policy agenda ahead of midterm elections on Nov. 8 that could determine whether Democrats retain control of Congress.

It came just as Biden celebrated Senate passage of a bill aimed at boosting the U.S. semiconductor industry, another key priority of his administration, and as he struggles with low job approval ratings and ebbing support from his own party after a series of conservative Supreme Court rulings.

“This bill will reduce the deficit beyond the record setting $1.7 trillion in deficit reduction we have already achieved this year, which will help fight inflation as well,” Biden said in a statement.

“And we will pay for all of this by requiring big corporations to pay their fair share of taxes, with no tax increases at all for families making under $400,000 a year,” he said.


Business
Greater Wenatchee Irrigation District to end maintenance on private land
World file photo/Don Seabrook 

Casey Blaufuss ducks under an irrigation water supply pipe in 2019 as he carries parts to a rebuilt 1,250-horsepower motor. Beginning on January 1, homeowners in the Greater Wenatchee Irrigation District will be responsible for the maintenance on irrigation lines that run though their property.

EAST WENATCHEE — Starting next year, East Wenatchee residents will be responsible for maintenance on the irrigation lines that run through their property.

The Greater Wenatchee Irrigation District has told homeowners that it will no longer be responsible for maintaining irrigation lines beyond its main meter starting January 1, 2023.

Customers will still receive water like normal, but they will be responsible for their own maintenance, District Manager Craig Gyselinck said. The district will also stop charging property owners an annual maintenance fee of $47.74.

“As I look at our budget and our time and our small staff, it wasn’t feasible for (the irrigation district) to be working on these systems,” Gyselinck said.

“We’ve had this year, for example, several lines break in people’s backyards, and it took my entire crew down here several days to fix those lines,” he said. “That really should be done by private contractors.”

The Greater Wenatchee Irrigation District’s five-member board voted unanimously for the change.

While the irrigation district previously chose to maintain the extended infrastructure, this change brings it in line with other districts in the area, like the Icicle and Peshastin Irrigation Districts. “(Customers are) responsible for maintaining how the water gets from the canal to their property,” Icicle and Peshastin Irrigation Districts manager Levi Jantzer said. “We stay out of that completely.”

The Quincy-Columbia Basin Irrigation District has a similar policy. “We maintain the measuring device, and then anything beyond the measuring device is the landowner’s infrastructure,” manager Roger Sonnichsen said.

Previously, the Greater Wenatchee Irrigation District maintained its irrigation infrastructure in local improvement districts (LIDs), smaller areas wherein all property owners receive water from a common delivery point.

The district had assisted in the construction of the LIDs in the 1960s, Gyselinck said. He sent out about 900 letters to affected residents on behalf of the district over last week and this week to inform them of the change.

The irrigation district recommends customers who previously benefited from its maintenance form a homeowner’s association with others within their LID, Gyselinck said.

That way, maintenance costs would not fall to individual homeowners but to the group, especially when that maintenance is needed closer to the main meter and the issue affects other customers downstream.

Gyselinck attributed the need for the change to the difference in infrastructure between LIDs and modern developments.

“For a modern development, when we go turn water on, we drive out to the meter and turn the water on,” he said.

For LIDs, after turning on the main meter, workers from the irrigation district have to go through customers’ backyards to ensure there aren’t problems with the lines that run through their property, which Gyselinck said was problematic for the district.

“Anything after our meter is considered private infrastructure,” he said.

Despite the change in who is responsible for maintenance, Gyselinck emphasized that customers will not lose access to the water they receive from the irrigation district.

“We’re bringing consistency throughout the district,” he said. “No one is having their water shut off.”


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