By Philip Reed, WAPA technical writer
Trinity Public Utilities District (TPUD) is a small utility with a workforce consisting of only 22 employees, located in Weaverville, California. It was founded in 1981 and has recently become a valued WAPA customer.
“Prior to that, Weaverville was being served by a small investor-owned utility,” said TPUD General Manager Paul Hauser. “They wanted to sell their distribution lines and get out of Trinity County. The community came together to raise and borrow the money necessary to purchase the distribution assets themselves.”
Dick Morris was a founding member of TPUD, and is still on the board today.
“We were motivated to take over the system and partner with WAPA when the previous utility made it clear that they were contemplating the sale of this system, along with their holdings in other small communities,” said Morris. “This was an opportunity. The previous utility had been bombarded by high-bill complaints from customers. City of Redding customers were paying around $21.00 for 1,000 kilowatt-hours (kWh), while in Weaverville we were paying $72.00 for the same usage. This was our chance to change that.”
Hauser says that joining WAPA saved Weaverville.
“The rates we were paying were far too high, and the local lumber mill was in serious danger of closing because of high electricity prices,” explained Hauser. “Weaverville had some of the highest rates in the state at the time. Now that we work with WAPA, we actually have some of the lowest rates, but that wasn’t the case then. It was difficult for the mill to stay afloat.”
The lumber mill is the largest private employer in the area with around 130 employees, and it’s critical to the overall well-being of both Weaverville and Trinity County. It is the only lumber mill still operating in the county, and it represents more than 10 percent of TPUD’s load.
“We pleaded with the mill owners not to scrap out the plant, but to keep it intact for two years while we sought a new owner to take it over,” said Morris. “If we were to succeed in purchasing the distribution assets and start working with WAPA allocation, we pledged to provide the new owners a substantial reduction in their cost of electricity.”
TPUD was able to find a new owner for the mill: Trinity River Lumber Company. They worked with Sierra Nevada staff members to receive a preference power allocation, a process that was completed in 1982.
“The importance of the mill to this community cannot be overstated,” said Hauser. “Had the mill failed, the economy of the entire county would have collapsed. We would have lost those jobs and it would have become uneconomical to perform the forest thinning that allows forest fires to be managed in a way that minimizes impact to the people of Trinity County. Losing the mill would have crushed us.”
Fortunately, TPUD was successful in purchasing the distribution assets and partnering with WAPA. As a result, the mill, the economy, and those 130 jobs were saved, preserving the economic health of the area.
“Thanks to the service we started getting from WAPA, the new owners were able to operate the mill more cost effectively,” Morris said. “The previous utility required the mill to pay around 10 cents per kWh. With WAPA, we were able to reduce the cost to three cents.”
Thirty-five years later the mill, once in danger of shutting down and taking its jobs with it, still operates.
“Access to WAPA’s low-cost hydropower allowed TPUD to offer rates low enough for the mill to stay in business,” Hauser said. “The benefit of partnering with WAPA was that direct.”
TPUD is now also able to offer customers increased reliability, as WAPA line crews provide assistance during major storms and outages. “That’s something we couldn’t do on our own,” said Hauser.
“I am pleased that WAPA was able to work out such a synergistic relationship with the owner- shareholders of TPUD,” said Senior Vice President and Sierra Nevada Regional Manager Subhash Paluru. “I’m also pleased that through the years WAPA and TPUD have continued to be valuable and reliable partners.”
“WAPA really is a fantastic partner,” Hauser concluded. “Its employees are very helpful to a small utility like us. We simply could not operate without the partnership that we have with WAPA.”