BrightRidge ending a 'very stable' budget year

Robert Houk • Updated Jun 26, 2019 at 9:19 AM

BrightRidge directors approved a new $205 million budget Tuesday, with $53.3 million of that going to the cost of operations, depreciation and capital investments in a public utility that serves 78,980 electric customers in all of Washington County, as well parts of Sullivan, Carter and Greene counties.

The board decided to spare customers if the Tennessee Valley Authority decides to raise its wholesale power cost to retail distributors like BrightRidge. Even so, a new TVA access charge will be passed through to BrightRidge customers at a cost of $739,000 or .35% on retail power rates.

According to a news release from BrightRidge, the utility’s directors declined to add a local rate addition if TVA raises its power costs in the fall, saving BrightRidge customers as much as $879,000 on a typical 1.5% wholesale rate hike. The cost of power from TVA is expected to cost BrightRidge $156.43 million in the new fiscal year, which begins July 1.

The new budget sees operating expenses cut by 2%, and BrightRidge’s tax contributions to local governments increase by 2%.

Brian Bolling, BrightRidge’s chief financial officer and customer officer, said the utility is ending a “very stable” fiscal year.

“Nothing spectacular or alarming,” he told directors Tuesday.

Bolling said it has been a very wet year, which has lowered its fuel cost adjustments as a result of more hydroelectric generation by TVA. BrightRidge officials said the rainy weather has also put a strain on the utility’s vegetation and tree-trimming efforts, as well as hampered its maintenance work.

The bottom line, Bolling told directors, is that BrightRidge is nearing the end of the current budget year with its assets up $11.1 million and operating revenues at $4.64 million.

The budget for the utility’s new broadband division is also on track with projections. Nearly $3.2 million of broadband’s $7.36 million capital budget for the current fiscal year has been spent, with 90% of the fiber optics installation in downtown Johnson City now complete.

BrightRidge directors also approved the purchase of two electric vehicles — a Nissan Leaf at $33,900 and Chevrolet Bolt at $35,776 — to the utility’s fleet on Tuesday. Jeff Dykes, BrightRidge’s chief executive officer, said he wanted customers to see its electric vehicles on the road to make a statement. He said the electric car charging stations the utility is developing will soon “be out front” as well.

Johnson City Mayor Jenny Brock told her fellow BrightRidge directors the electric charging stations in downtown Johnson City and Jonesborough will demonstrate to customers and visitors to the area alike that the utility is “showing leadership” on electric cars.

“The door is open and we are on the front end,” she said.