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Commission OKs long-term contract with WAPA to reserve Willmar, Minn., power allocation

WILLMAR -- Willmar's Municipal Utilities Commission on Monday approved a long-term agreement that ensures Willmar will continue to receive its current allocation of electricity from the Western Area Power Administration.

The Western Area Power Administration, often known as WAPA, sells and delivers cost-based hydroelectric power and related services within a 15-state region of the central and western United States.

Willmar Utilities interim co-manager Wes Hompe said WAPA requested the contract. The current contract expires in January 2021, and WAPA asked Willmar to renew the contract to reserve the same power allocation from 2021 through 2050.

Hompe said he was told that acting on the contract now was the best way to reserve Willmar's allocation.

"It's an administrative request they'd asked us for,'' said Hompe. "They wanted to make sure everybody had this signed up.''

He said the rate is cost-based, which is significantly less than market-based. As costs have changed, so have the rates, he said.

But because the electricity is fairly low-cost power, it is Willmar's most economical source, said Hompe. WAPA provides about 6 to 7 megawatts of power per hour or about 10 to 12 percent of Willmar's energy needs and is the utility's cheapest form of energy, he said.

Commissioner Jerry Gesch, who attended a recent public power legislative rally in Washington, D.C., said some people wanted to change Western Area Power Administration rates from a cost-based fee to a market-based fee as part of a budget reduction.

"We lobbied so that wouldn't take place,'' Gesch said. "Hopefully we'll be able to keep these costs down to us as time goes on.''

Hompe said the power is an allocation of Missouri River hydro resources. He said utilities that receive that power are holding on dearly to it because of the price and stability.

In other business Monday, Commission President Dave Baker welcomed new member David Becker, who was appointed by Mayor Frank Yanish to replace Doug Lindblad. Becker will serve through December 2013.

Lindblad had submitted his resignation from the commission at the end of 2011, but Yanish persuaded Lindblad to stay on the commission through March while the commission dealt with personnel and organizational issues.

Becker has more than 25 years of management experience. He is self-employed in insurance sales serving the Medicare and senior market. In his application for appointment, Becker said he desires to serve citizens in the best manner that he can and he said his experience in management will benefit the position.

Also Monday, interim co-manager Larry Heinen updated the board on the continued work of Springsted Inc. on the organizational assessment study. He said Springsted has gathered much information and he said employees had a week to take an online survey.

Within the next week or so, Springsted will tabulate the survey and garner more information, with an expectation of bringing some findings to the April 23 commission meeting. Also, Springsted staff want to discuss the findings with Baker, Labor Relations Committee Chairman Matt Schrupp, and the Planning Committee on April 19.

David Little
David Little covers the Willmar City Council, Willmar Municipal Utilities and other city news.
(320) 235-1150