Western Area Power Administration is celebrating 40 years of service to its customers on Thursday, Dec. 21—the anniversary of its official designation as WAPA.
WAPA was created, Oct. 1, 1977, as part of the same legislation that created the Department of Energy: the Energy Organization Act of 1977. That day, about 900 employees responsible for power marketing and transmission services in the Bureau of Reclamation were transferred from the Department of Interior to the fledgling Department of Energy.
Electrical Engineer Max Morse from Lakewood, Colorado, was one of those 900 employees and is one of the few remaining “WAPA Originals” still employed at WAPA today.
“We had a skeleton crew,” he shared about the beginning of WAPA. “We did a lot of new things for the first time, things we had never done before. In some cases, we had to make it up as we went. We had engineers running our computer system because we didn’t have a full IT department. How shocking is that? We still have engineers in our IT department today because of that.”
For the past 40 years, WAPA has supplied more than 300 municipal utilities, state and federal agencies, Native American tribes and rural electric cooperatives with clean, renewable, reliable, cost-based federal hydroelectric power and related services, which, in turn, provide energy to more than 40 million Americans in 15 central and western states.
“We have come a long way,” said Morse. “WAPA has matured. We have more people doing more work and have more assets. In 1977, it wasn’t usual to have 300-mile segments of transmission lines between substations. Now, new substations keep popping up along the lines so people in communities can tap into the energy.”
Over the years, WAPA adapted to the evolving energy industry, relying on its professional staff and their expertise to create innovative solutions with the preference power customers in support of the mission.
The agency successfully responded to multiple pieces of new energy legislation, navigated the energy crisis in California around the turn of the century and adopted several technological advances that dramatically changed the face of the energy industry.
Under Strategic Roadmap 2024, WAPA will continue to work with customers to anticipate and respond to change in the rapidly evolving industry, including markets, renewable energy and increased threats in cyber and physical grid security, to ensure it continues to meet its mission in the future.
“Although the electric utility industry is changing rapidly and evolving in a way never before seen, WAPA’s critical and noble mission remains the same,” said Administrator and CEO Mark A. Gabriel. “We help keep the lights on for 40 million Americans. Our Strategic Roadmap 2024 and the partnerships we have today with our customers and the Department of Energy will ensure WAPA remains valuable for years to come.”