Fort Payne Improvement Authority turns 80

Pictured above is Roger Smith working on a power line in downtown Fort Payne.

A lot has changed over the past eight decades – much of it spurred by an April 12, 1940 vote for the City of Fort Payne to form a local organization to sell electricity.

Historical accounts recall how the city entered into an agreement to purchase power from the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) that March, when the city council voted to set up a vote to determine whether or not to incorporate the Fort Payne Improvement Authority “for the purpose of engaging in the enterprise of furnishing the city and its inhabitants the following services: electric heat, light and power services.”

The Improvement Authority Act of the State of Alabama required the signature of at least 5 percent of the qualified electors in the city. On that spring day in April, the city elected to incorporate the FPIA by a vote of 66 for and seven against, according to accounts from that time.

The City of Fort Payne purchased the existing electrical distribution system from Alabama Power Company, then, in May 1940, the newly incorporated Improvement Authority purchased the electric distribution system from the city for $140,000.

Mike Shirey now serves as FPIA’s general manager. He said the vision remains providing the electrical infrastructure and service necessary to improve the quality of life for city residents.

“The Fort Payne Improvement Authority is committed to providing its customers with a safe and reliable power source at the lowest practical cost. We will provide our customers with the quality of service they expect and deserve by operating our business efficiently and professionally. We value our customers and are committed to providing them with excellent customer service,” Shirey said.

The Improvement Authority is one of 154 local power companies that purchase and distribute electricity from the TVA, providing some of the nation’s lowest-cost electricity. The service area includes the majority of land inside the city limits of Fort Payne, as well as a large area on Lookout Mountain outside of the city boundaries. The utility serves approximately 8,500 customers.

“Over the years, FPIA has seen considerable growth, including the purchase of a significant portion of the system on Lookout Mountain from the Sand Mountain Electric Cooperative that extended the service territory to the Dogtown Community,” Shirey said.

Many men and women have devoted their lives to the making of the FPIA, and to the service of the citizens of Fort Payne and the surrounding community. A plaque in the entry at the new FPIA office building at 406 3rd Street SE honors 26 individuals that devoted more than 20 years of their lives to their work at FPIA, and many others have contributed to the development and progress over the past 80 years.

FPIA now employs 30 people, including 10 with more than 20 years and several others not far behind. The combined experience of these 30 employees totals more than 400 years.

FPIA is governed by a board of directors that are appointed by the Fort Payne City Council. Wallace Smith serves as board president, with Randy Moses serving as vice president, Brad Scott as secretary, Kenneth Larson and John T. Davis as Board members and Steve Bussman as Board attorney.

The development of the electric distribution system was critical to the early expansion of the hosiery industry in Fort Payne, and FPIA was instrumental in Fort Payne’s rise to becoming the “Sock Capital of the World”.

“Unfortunately, the hosiery business has declined, but FPIA’s system remains strong for those that remain and for other industries to expand and businesses in the area to grow,” Shirey said.

During 2020, FPIA will be replacing residential and commercial meters with a state-of-the-art, advanced electric metering infrastructure and installing communication equipment to automate the meter reading process. Shirey said this will result in significant opportunities for improvement in customer service and system operations.

“If you have traveled south on Highway 11 recently, you may have noticed construction underway on a new substation that will strengthen the distribution system, and provide capacity for economic development,” Shirey said.

It may be 80 years old, but FPIA clearly isn’t slowing down.

“We take seriously the role handed to us by the citizens back in 1940, and we continue to focus on improving the quality of life in Fort Payne and the surrounding community. Our community and nation are in a dark time right now, but FPIA is here for you, and together we will make it through and the future will be bright.” Shirey said.

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