Public Power Week 2021 takes place Oct. 3 to Oct. 9. Next week, cities across the United States will take time to recognize the hard work local power technicians do on a day to day basis. Public Power Week is designed to help customers and stakeholders understand how they can better engage with their community-owned utility, and benefit from all its offerings.
Today, publically owned power companies supply low-cost electricity to more than 49 million Americans, as well as 2,000 communities across the U.S., according to publicpower.org. Collectively, these power utilities serve one in seven electricity customers across the country and operate in 49 states.
Mike Shirey, general manager of the Fort Payne Improvement Authority (FPIA), said that public power works only in serving the community, and not for any for-profit entity.
“As a municipal public power provider, we exist to support the community. We are not for-profit; everything we do, we try to make our decisions in the best interest of the overall community,” Shirey said.
While there are not any special events planned for Public Power Week 2021, Shirey wants everyone to be aware of the importance that municipal power provides. Shirey wants to raise more awareness in Fort Payne, as well as the surrounding communities, the vital role the FPIA plays.
Because local residents saw the need for a municipal power structure, the FPIA was created over 80 years ago, in 1940. “We exist at the pleasure of the people,” said Shirey. The city creating its own power plant serves as a testament to the nature the FPIA is committed to, and that is remaining a public service being solely accountable to taxpayers, and not to shareholders.
“As a power company, our main objective is to provide the infrastructure and service to support the electrical needs of [the Fort Payne] community,” said Shirey. “Most folks…just about everything they do during the course of their days involves our product, which is electricity. The decisions we make…is to try maintain our system, and operate in a way that produces the lowest cost, most reliable source of energy.”
Of course, providing such energy does not stop there. Even with a population of under 15,000, the power infrastructure must be maintained, and sometimes replaced or rebuilt. The FPIA is currently in the process of building a new substation in the south end of Fort Payne. According to Shirey, this will improve the city’s reliability, and “allow us flexibility in how we operate our power system.”
This way, the newer, more reliable structure will remove some of the pressure off the older, ageing structure.
In 2017, Governor Kay Ivey signed a proclamation for Public Power Week to be the first full week of October, noting that “Alabama’s public power utilities serve over two million Alabamians and are part of more than 2,000 public power systems in the United States that ensure cost-cutting competition in the electric utility industry, through consumer-ownership, to the benefit of electric consumers everywhere…”