Six candidates are asking for your vote in order to fill three seats on the Trinity Public Utilities District. While they have attended public forums and more information about them is available in the sample ballot, we gave each the opportunity to answer questions about themselves, their mission and qualifications.

Alex Cousins

Cousins has lived in Trinity County his entire life and currently lives in Weaverville. He is the clerk of the TPUD Board and has served in that capacity since 2019. He is also the vice chair of the Trinity River Community Partners, president of the Friends of the RCD and board member of the Highland Art Center. He also was an alternative on the Trinity Adaptive Management Working Group.

Cousins gave the following answers to our questions.

What is your understanding of what a public utility board of directors does? The Board of Directors works with staff to make sure the district is following the mission. Additionally, the board needs to be looking at efficiencies and future growth of the organization. The board is also representing the community and needs to be available to hear and discuss board policies and mission, or any other issues that may come up. The board is responsible for representing Trinity PUD to elected officials, at the county, state and national level, and for representing Trinity PUD with other organizations.

Is the board currently doing anything you would like to see changed? The board is functioning well, but there is always room to improve.

Is there anything the district is doing that you are satisfied with and would not like to see changed? The board is performing very well at providing low-cost, reliable power, I would work to make sure that doesn’t change.

What other forms of energy production would you like to see developed and implemented in Trinity County? I’m interested in alternative forms of renewable energy in Trinity County, especially biomass, which would help to improve the forest conditions.  

Are there any electricity-dependent industries you would like to see developed in or recruited to Trinity County? As a board member, all customers that use electricity are exciting to see.

What are your thoughts on cogeneration, biomass, solar and wind energy development? Cogeneration could be very beneficial to Trinity County, helping with forest management, and producing renewable energy.

What do/will you bring to the board that is unique to you? I have a strong understanding of the Trinity PUD, Trinity County, and how each fits into a larger picture, both regionally and nationally. My experience on other boards helps me work with other board members to come to strong group conclusions, and to network within our community and to connect with people from outside this region.

With its low electricity rates and available business properties around the county, do you think it’s possible to attract technical business centers to Trinity County? How could the board help do that? Technical business centers could be attracted to Trinity County because of the available electricity.  The board can help by ensuring affordable rates and reliability remain available for its customers.

Is there anything else you’d like to tell the community about yourself? I believe in the Trinity PUD, and its value as a resource to Trinity County. Maintaining the affordable, reliable carbon free power is as important as anything to the future of Trinity County. I am committed to this community and ensuring that Trinity PUD is making the best decisions for everyone.

Kyle McDonald

McDonald moved to Trinity County in 1999 to be with his wife, a lifelong resident of the area, to raise his family. He owns and operates Mountain Market Place in Weaverville. He has been a youth soccer and wrestling coach for 16 years. He said he is running to provide a clear and concise voice that represents the people of Trinity County and to ensure that we are making the best decisions for the future of Trinity County’s low-cost electricity.

He also sits on the board of Hearthfire International, a nonprofit that works for the acknowledgment and preservation of Native American culture and ceremonies as well as outreach for indigenous people worldwide.

“My focus will be on fire safety and infrastructure stability, diversification of supply, greater access to more areas, water protection, applications of emerging technologies (preparation for future needs) and making ‘easy to understand’ reports for the people,” he says.

McDonald gave the following answers to our questions.

What is your understanding of what a public utility board of directors does? Guidance for the direction of TPUD and protecting our allocations, making decisions for the future that effect the environment, water and our long-term energy needs.

Is the board currently doing anything you would like to see changed? Being from the outside of the board currently, I would like to see more transparency and understandable reports of the activities the board conducts. There are projects that need clarification as to what they are doing and why in plain speech that everyone can understand.

Is there anything the district is doing that you are satisfied with and would not like to see changed? Making sure our allocation is protected.

What other forms of energy production would you like to see developed and implemented in Trinity County? I am very much on the pro side of unifying Trinity County under TPUD, effectively taking potential responsibility from PG&E and ensuring safe service through our TPUD team.

As solar power is very inexpensive right now, I would love to see diversity in our power supply and battery storage.

Are there any electricity-dependent industries you would like to see developed in or recruited to Trinity County? There is so much potential for inviting interest in Trinity with the lowest cost power in the state to build companies and bring jobs. I would encourage promoting Trinity to environmentally conscious technological companies.

What are your thoughts on cogeneration, biomass, solar and wind energy development? All great ideas and they all fit right in with my message of diversification of our power supply. I will support bringing security for our future generation’s energy needs.

What do/will you bring to the board that is unique to you? A fresh set of eyes and ears as a local business owner, TPUD customer and a parent that wants to see a viable future for Trinity County. I have no one pulling my strings and I don’t work for any companies, boards, groups or industries that could affect my decision making.

With its low electricity rates and available business properties around the county, do you think it’s possible to attract technical business centers to Trinity County? How could the board help do that? Yes. The board can be active in promoting our low-cost electricity and actively reaching out to companies that are looking to relocate or expand.

Is there anything else you’d like to tell the community about yourself? I am very approachable and love hearing from people. I am here to serve our community by listening to the people, making decisions based on what the majority of the people prefer and communicating clearly the decisions made and the actions being taken.

Anything else you’d like to add? Vote! I can be reached via email: kfmcdonald1@gmail.com on my Facebook page Kyle McDonald TPUD Board or stop in at the Mountain Market Place and say hi at 508 Main St. in Weaverville; and please ask questions.

Kelli Gant

Gant has been a resident of the county for 16 years and has been on the TPUD board since 2011, two years of which as board president. She said she is running to continue working with Trinity PUD staff to maintain our high level of service and the lowest possible cost electricity for its customers. She is also the president of the Trinity County Chamber of Commerce, is the director/secretary and treasurer of the Trinity County Visitors and Development Bureau, is a board member of the Shasta Cascade Wonderland Association and is the board president of the Trinity Lake Revitalization Alliance. She was also appointed by governors Brown and Newsom to be a board member of the North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board.

“I want to help the district through the current powerline easement-widening project,” she says, “and I want to refine our system plan for the growing demand for power while reserving power for needed housing and a diverse business community given our allocation constraints.”

Gant gave the following answers to our questions.

What is your understanding of what a public utility board of directors does? The primary job of a board director is fiscal stewardship. In addition, utility district directors oversee district plans and business strategies, act as advocates for the district and its customers, and bring to the board prior experience, knowledge and networking to strengthen decision making. The district’s general manager reports to the board.

Is the board currently doing anything you would like to see changed? I would like the board to develop an on-boarding orientation for new board members that quickly provides them with information to aid them in decision making. I would like to have an outreach program to address requests for district presentations and in-community board meetings.

Is there anything the district is doing that you are satisfied with and would not like to see changed? Trinity PUD has outstanding staff and crew that I would not change. Management has been successful in recruiting and retaining quality people.

Are there any electricity-dependent industries you would like to see developed in or recruited to Trinity County? With Trinity PUD’s low rates and the state’s phaseout of gasoline-powered cars, Trinity may be a good candidate to house a hydrogen fuel facility. The primary challenge for hydrogen production is the cost of production. The manufacturing of wood pellets is another interesting industry to explore. However, this production also needs a reliable, long-term source of wood fiber.

What do/will you bring to the board that is unique to you? I have 23 years of corporate experience with most of my time at a director level doing project management. As a project manager, I coordinated multiple teams across multiple departments and managed million-dollar budgets. This project management experience has wired me to always look many years ahead and analyze what needs to be done today to be ready for the future, and to be aware of the ripple effects that decisions can have.

With its low electricity rates and available business properties around the county, do you think it’s possible to attract technical business centers to Trinity County? How could the board help do that? The trick to attracting technical businesses to settle in Trinity County is having a strong labor pool for these companies to hire from. The Trinity PUD is more than open to talking to potential companies and has policies to support on-boarding new businesses. To help build a good labor pool, Trinity County needs housing. Trinity PUD is more than ready to help facilitate serving new subdivisions with single and multi-family homes.

Is there anything else you’d like to tell the community about yourself? I truly enjoy working with Trinity PUD and helping our community and district customers. This board position has been my most challenging, most demanding, and, also, the most rewarding.

Anything else you’d like to add? One would think that the delivery of electricity to homes and businesses should be pretty straightforward after its first delivery to homes in 1882. But the industry grows more complex, more regulated, and more political every year. I look forward to working with Trinity PUD for another four years as we navigate the changing power industry and position Trinity PUD so that the district is here to serve future generations. I ask for your vote so that we can keep Trinity PUD strong.

Thomas Walz

Walz first started working in Trinity County in 1980 cruising Forest Service timber sales for Sierra Pacific Industries. He moved to Hayfork with his family in 1983 to be the timber and log acquisition manager at the Hayfork mill and retired from forestry after 39 years in 2019. He was appointed to an open seat by the TPUD board in March 2020, after being interviewed by the board. He has served on numerous local and state boards and organizations, mostly related to natural resource management. He served four years on the State Board of Forestry, appointed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. He has also served on the Resource Advisory Committee and is part of the Trinity Collaborative.

“With 450+ miles of overhead power lines and poles, meeting our mission of supplying reliable, affordable electricity to our customers has its challenges and opportunities,” he says. “My experience in the woods and as the burn boss on over 70,000 acres of prescribed burns during my career has prepared me to help the PUD evaluate risk to our power line infrastructure and suggest alternative opportunities to provide service at reduced risk.”

Walz gave the following answers to our questions.

What is your understanding of what a public utility board of directors does? My job as your appointed incumbent representative on the board is to help direct the Trinity PUD in setting priorities and finding opportunities to increase the reliability while maintaining the affordability and safety of our electric service.

Is the board currently doing anything you would like to see changed? An opportunity for change that we are currently addressing is increasing reliability and reducing risk by changing out expulsion fuses on the lines with non-expulsion fuses. This one item helps reduce the risk of wildfire ignition if a contact occurs on the lines and reduces the cost of maintenance as clearance around poles with non-expulsion fuses can be minimized. My desire is to change out 500-1,000 of these per year. So far we have replaced 300 this year. Unfortunately because the supplier is back ordered by over 16 weeks the shortage of supply will make it difficult to achieve this goal.

Is there anything the district is doing that you are satisfied with and would not like to see changed? Since my appointment in March I have been impressed with the quality of staff, both in the office and the field crew. These are local people providing high quality service. I am proud that PUD pays competitive wages to bring these local jobs to our communities. I want to maintain these high-quality jobs and increase our customer base so we can justify employing even more local people.

What other forms of energy production would you like to see developed and implemented in Trinity County? I believe Trinity County is rich in resources and people and I want to see opportunities enhanced for both. I support agriculture production that is legal and principled using appropriate environmental safeguards, including greenhouses that require high impact electricity use. I also support high energy use systems like bitcoin farming that requires massive computer servers to create the incredibly complex calculations that make encrypted bitcoin a potentially viable alternative monetary system.

What are your thoughts on cogeneration, biomass, solar and wind energy development? Utilizing the existing hydro power infrastructure provides the highest reliability and affordability for our customers. Other energy system developments would be a welcome addition to the system providing opportunities to utilize our natural resources and improve forest management efforts by collecting biomass for power generation. Solar and wind development would provide synergy to the system allowing the right mix of energy for difficult to serve areas.

What do/will you bring to the board that is unique to you? As part of my personal mission statement, with 39 years of experience working in the woods and around fire, I bring the vision to see opportunities where others only see obstacles.

With its low electricity rates and available business properties around the county, do you think it’s possible to attract technical business centers to Trinity County? How could the board help do that? We currently have a robust, growing high-impact electrical agricultural load that I would like to see Trinity PUD continue service expansion efforts. Technical business or even server farms will require not only reliable, affordable electricity but also high-speed, readily available internet service. Trinity PUD has been exploring opportunities to bring in high-speed internet available throughout our service area. We don’t have it yet but the board desires to make it happen.

Is there anything else you’d like to tell the community about yourself? My wife and I consider ourselves stewards of the property we live on and of the people that we have been graced to have as part of our lives. We work hard to take care of our property and our relationships. That stewardship and work ethic is carried over into my time as a member of the Trinity PUD board.

Anything else you’d like to add? LeBron James was recently asked about being part of a winning culture, he replied “I always talk about the best teacher in life is experience, and I’ve experienced a lot.” As your appointed incumbent representative on the Trinity PUD board I bring unique experience to help guide the board and the PUD in delivering reliable, affordable and safe electricity.

Kristiana ‘Ana’ Wright

Wright has lived in Trinity County since 2017, after spending many summers with her mother who has lived here since 2008. She bought a home here in 2019 and says she wants to remain here for many years to come.

She said she’s running partly because she feels the board could benefit from some new ideas. She wants to be more involved in the community, as well as to be a local figure who people can trust to represent their ideas, concerns and feedback, especially those who may feel unheard or underrepresented.

“There are several points of interest for me,” she says. “First, is to be a part of the upcoming right of way project -- I believe my education and background in CEQA and working with environmental agencies would be a huge asset to this project. I also look forward to exploring more creative ways to upgrade TPUD infrastructure without raising rates on residential customers. Additionally, I would like to work to make the meetings more transparent and more accessible, as well as better outgoing information on the website about power outages, where trucks are, ETA’s, etc.”

She has not served in a elected position, but her father is a Superior Court judge and she has experience in politics through her household where her father also ran for mayor.

The following were her answers to our questions.

What is your understanding of what a public utility board of directors does? My understanding is the Board of Directors regulates services including rates for customers, new power projects, and more, as well as protects customers and the environment to ensure safety and reliability with the local utility services and its infrastructure.

Is the board currently doing anything you would like to see changed? Access to information such as agenda and items are poor; one must email the administrator to get items emailed before meetings as they are not easily obtained online. An example of more accessible and readily available document includes our Board of Supervisors and Planning Commission websites where all agenda items are provided the Friday before the meetings are to take place.

Is there anything the district is doing that you are satisfied with and would not like to see changed? Keeping rates low for our district is always priority as we are the lowest rates in the state. The current board should be proud of this, and this will be something I aim to keep if I am elected to the board.

What other forms of energy production would you like to see developed and implemented in Trinity County? Cogeneration plants could potentially be used to utilize byproducts of forestry and mill sites to make energy from the burning of those byproducts. Something to explore more.

Are there any electricity-dependent industries you would like to see developed in or recruited to Trinity County? The electric car industry. We have one station in Douglas City which is currently the only stop from Redding to the coast. Having readily available charging stations can bring more tourists to our area as people will plan their trips with their electric cars based on where they can charge.

What are your thoughts on cogeneration, biomass, solar and wind energy development? Cogeneration – Could be cost effective for an alternative power source. Additionally, it could have a role to play in any fuels reduction strategies to address our wildfires. Biomass – Happens after the cogeneration process and is also a viable option to look into. Additionally, biomass generation utilization for power generation could be done either independently, or as a part of a cogeneration plant. Could be something like a kiln as a part of a larger plant. Solar – This is an option worth exploring, though initial infrastructure costs could be high. Wind – This may not be proper for our geographical area and endangered wildlife would not be good.

What do/will you bring to the board that is unique to you? As a small-business owner that employs up to 14 people, I have a perspective on some of the needs of local commercial businesses, as well as residential needs. Also, my new ideas to innovate and bring the website of Trinity PUD to life would be only beneficial to the district and to the board. My current profession as a cannabis licensing consultant has provided me with the proper education and experience in environmental planning and CEQA, and I’ve had the opportunity to work with regulatory agencies such as Cal Fire, CDFW, State Water Board, CDFA, and USFS.

With its low electricity rates and available business properties around the county, do you think it’s possible to attract technical business centers to Trinity County? How could the board help do that? To attract the tech industry, we need 21st century broadband, which is a concept I am ready to explore.

Is there anything else you’d like to tell the community about yourself? My college education in Sociology and Psychology, coupled with my innate approachability, makes me a candidate that is relatable, and able to implement my goals of expanding transparency to the district.

Andy Johnson

Johnson has been a resident of Trinity County for two-and-a-half years but has been coming to the county annually for 20 years to spend holidays and summers here. He and his wife made their home here in 2018 and he says they couldn’t be happier.

His background is in engineering, construction and project management, giving him a skillset which he hopes to use to help prepare long-term plans for the public utility district.

He says most of his experience comes from the private sector and he currently serves on a technology steering committee for an engineering firm and has experience working with countless public agencies through his career. He said he’s interested in the board member position to be a steward of two of the county’s most valuable assets, water and its resulting power allocation.

“I am proud to be a ratepayer in our district and while the PUD has a history of returning value of our water being diverted to the Central Valley in the form of low electricity rates, I think we can do more,” he says. “I believe there are opportunities to improve fire safety and reliability, expand local economic growth and jobs, further secure low rates and provide carbon free power to all residents of Trinity County, even those that are not currently served by PUD. We also should diversify a plan for our energy independence that can outlive the Trinity Dam and also give us additional leverage to negotiate rates for our current allocation.” He said board transparency is equally important.

The following are his answers to our questions.

What is your understanding of what a public utility board of directors does? A public utility board governs and directs its staff to act on behalf of its customers. The board makes informed decisions on operations and finances, provides oversight of key staff, and ensure a successful future by providing guidance, strategy and planning. Additionally, as a public agency, there are also regulatory and public disclose requirements that are crucial to maintaining good standing and public trust.

Currently, my feeling is that the Trinity PUD board and staff are not doing all that they can to guard against conflicts of interest, provide transparency or promote public involvement. Others share in this feeling and it has provided me with just one more reason to get involved.

Is the board currently doing anything you would like to see changed? Three of the five current board members have been appointed and have never been elected. My hope is this election brings this to the attention of voters and the TPUD ratepayers finally get to choose their own representatives. Additionally, the current board and many former members are distracted by non-electric politics. Specifically, multiple current and former board members, the general manager and the district legal counsel have been involved with the Trinity Action Association (TAA) and legal action against the county of Trinity (and by extension, suing TPUD’s own ratepayers). Our county deserves better and shouldn’t have to pay financial settlements to special interest groups like this. The county and the PUD should be working together, not at odds.

I also believe that the district could do more to work with the county of Trinity in protecting and leveraging our “county of origin” water rights and using that as a negotiating tool with the Western Area Power Administration.

Is there anything the district is doing that you are satisfied with and would not like to see changed? The district has been making a good start to improve our wildfire safety issues. Both the new 2020 wildfire mitigation plan and the 130’ right of way expansion are good efforts to harden our transmission lines against fire risk. While the job that the district has been doing to get the benefit of cheap hydroelectricity in exchange for our water should be acknowledged, I believe improvements are still possible. Since forming in the 1980s, the district has continued to advocate for increased benefits and reduced costs on power.

The current board has also been working to update this mission to include an objective regarding supporting businesses with affordable power. I agree with this and believe the low cost of power in Trinity County can help drive economic development.

What other forms of energy production would you like to see developed and implemented in Trinity County? We should always have an eye toward alternatives to our current single hydroelectric source. How long can we expect the dam to last? Will the Bureau of Reclamation and Western Area Power Administration always be able to provide affordable rates or will we be forced to pay for needed upgrades and repairs someday down the road? What happens if this generation is privatized in the future?

The cost for solar power continues to decrease as well as the cost for utility scale battery storage. This would be a logical way to diversify our generation sources. Additionally, we have forest fuels that continue to burn annually and should undergo more frequent prescribed burns. Although the technology, costs and other factors are still challenging to pencil out, small-scale distributed biomass generation could provide a way to keep our forests healthy and allow for power to be generated at the same time.

Are there any electricity-dependent industries you would like to see developed in or recruited to Trinity County? I would love to promote economic development and bring new businesses to the area. Manufacturing and high-tech industries bring high paying jobs, but there is a challenge with recruiting them to a rural area such as ours.

At a minimum right now, we should be prepared for increased loads and infrastructure needed to accommodate electric vehicles. This is a safe bet. We should also continue to provide new and increased service to permitted cannabis farmers. These are customers that are paying costs for connection up front prior to installation and the high load rates paid by these agriculture businesses is a significant source of revenue that shouldn’t be overlooked.

What are your thoughts on cogeneration, biomass, solar and wind energy development? Wind turbines have their place, but Trinity County isn’t likely right for it on a large scale. If the district were to ever participate in a co-op type scenario, wind energy generated elsewhere would likely be a good candidate for this.

What do/will you bring to the board that is unique to you? My background in engineering and analytical thinking make me a good problem solver and planner. I have experience managing large design and construction projects that will benefit the district. My skills will also aid in preparing requests for proposals, reviewing qualifications and selecting bidders for engineering consultants, construction services and maintenance projects. Capital expense projects should add value and longevity to the district if done properly.

I also hope to bring my background in emerging technologies to add value to the board. Drones, laser scanning, LIDAR, GIS data and high definition imaging are all engineering tools I have used on projects in the past 15 years.

With its low electricity rates and available business properties around the county, do you think it’s possible to attract technical business centers to Trinity County? How could the board help do that? It is possible to attract technical businesses to Trinity County such as a data center. However, there are challenges to overcome for many of these types of businesses that require “mission critical” infrastructure. The PUD board could help use its relationships to negotiate access to redundant internet service providers for example as this is critical to this type of business.

Additionally, if economic development is an area that TPUD wants to assist the community, there will be other factors such as housing that would need to be lobbied for. If this is a possibility, the TPUD should be supporting Digital 299 (the upcoming fiber optic line on the 299 corridor) aggressively, which I understand still has not happened.

Is there anything else you’d like to tell the community about yourself? My wife Teckla and I have two children: a son in the sixth grade at Junction City School and a daughter who is a senior at Trinity High School. We all love backpacking, camping and paddling on the river.

I have a degree in architecture and have worked in the architecture, engineering and construction field for the past 16 years. I have been an architectural and structural designer for a wide variety of project types and clients, including municipal utilities, power generation facilities and manufacturing facilities.

Anything else you’d like to add? The fundamental concept of the Trinity PUD was a winning idea. If we are going to be sending Trinity County water to the Central Valley, we should receive compensation and have a local public utility. Unfortunately, over the years that spark of innovation seems to have waned, the approach has become less assertive and some of the relationships with local partners have become combative. My hope is to bring new energy to this community asset and help to move the organization toward better future in collaboration with other local entities that could be strong partners.

You have my commitment to work on your behalf to not only ensure our current status and assets, and also to push towards a brighter future in an ethical and transparent way that supports all members of our community.

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