Discussion continued at the Oct. 14 meeting of Trinity Public Utility District’s Board of Directors meeting about holding a series of public meetings to inform ratepayers the reasons for upcoming rate increases, which appear inevitable at this point, due to increasing costs.

An ad hoc committee of board members was directed to return to the Nov. 11 meeting with a format recommendation for as many as five community meetings, likely in Weaverville, Junction City, Trinity Center, Lewiston and Hayfork. At these meetings, available board members and staff will explain how state mandates, increased electrical loads, repairs, fires, global warming, drought and other factors have been driving utility prices up.

From those meetings, ratepayers will have a month to make comments and suggestions related to the proposed increases, before a vote can be made to that end. Director Kelli Gant suggested the priority answer should be to the question “why now?” It was noted that climate change and drought conditions will negatively affect power production, particularly hydropower, in the future.

The subject came up last month during a lengthy board discussion about how to equally raise local utility rates to cover costs set the stage for a public discussion. Directors discussed many aspects of how local rates are determined and affected by the cost of capital projects and delivery of services. With staff’s assertions that rates will need to be raised in some county areas due to load increases and supporting projects, Directors Alex Cousins and Andy Johnson stressed that ratepayers should be brought into the discussion.

According to minutes from the September meeting, General Manager Paul Hauser said the district will need to increase revenues by about $2 million annually, to cover increasing costs.

At the Oct. 14 meeting, directors discussed whether the meetings should be in person, by Zoom or a combination thereof. They also discussed their own availability in coming months, scheduling, meeting notification requirements and deadlines for advertising the meetings in local media. Board members will review the recommendation at the Nov. 9 meeting, which was pushed up two days by the Veteran’s Day holiday.

Loan pursued

The upcoming meetings will also likely broach the subject of a $9 million loan to cover the costs of increasing loads on the electrical system.

At the September board meeting, the district chose to pursue the loan, saying the district has experienced significant load growth over the last three to five years and has been using current reserves to fund the system upgrades and improvements that have been necessary to accommodate that growth.

Increased loads have forced the district to install a new Lewiston substation for $3 million, a new transformer and steel structure on the Hayfork 1201 circuit for another $3 million and an $869,000 reconductor project reaching from Weaverville to Junction City, Upcoming projects include a $400,000 communications building and radio tower on Oregon Mountain and a $3 million investment in the Wildfire Risk, Reliability and Asset Protection Project. The district also needs to replace about 10 percent of its poles as part of a fire safety project lasting for the next five to eight years.

Hauser told the board in September that if the district plans to accommodate load growth, a rate increase is inevitable. The board unanimously approved pursuing the loan agreement.

Outages

Over the weekend, a short storm preceded rainfall, taking out power for most of Junction City for a couple of hours. However, Electrical Supt. Andy Lethbridge said crews could not find the exact reason for the outage.

“We suspect a branch or a critter caused lines to slap and take out a breaker,” he said. Lethbridge explained that the systems breakers are currently set in such a way that any fault will trip them.

Another outage in Hayfork Monday morning took out power to about 700 customers after a tree fell into lines near Morgan Hill Road. Lethbridge said the power was out for a few hours while a crew made repairs and was back on by 11 a.m. Weaverville experienced flickering lights both Sunday and Monday.

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