The Florence Utilities staff
A Rich History
In 1879, the president of the Menominee Mining Company sent Mrs. Florence Hulst a letter requesting permission to name a new town after her. The letter promised, “It will be a lively town. We shall put an anti-whiskey clause in all deeds and we expect it will be as much noted for its temperance and morality as for its — well, anything the future may develop. We all wish to call the new town and mine FLORENCE, in honor of the first white woman who had courage enough to settle (for a while) in that rugged country.”
Nineteen years later, Florence Utility Commission would be founded. Just last year, the municipally owned and operated utility celebrated 120 years of providing electric, water, and natural gas to the 2,268 residents and businesses they serve today in Florence, Wisconsin.
And What Is It That the Future Developed?
To this day, the utility is still proud to employ “local people working together to meet local needs.” Located in northeast Wisconsin near the Michigan border, Florence is popular for fishing, hunting, and hosting the largest ATV and snowmobile trail system in the state.
General Manager Robert (Bob) Friberg leads Florence Utilities. Friberg is one of the founding fathers of WPPI Energy, working to pass legislation as far back as 1977 that laid the groundwork for our current joint action agency. He began serving on WPPI Energy’s Executive Committee (EC) in 1984, four years after its official formation. Serving on the EC is a challenging role, as the group is responsible for overseeing WPPI Energy’s business affairs and making recommendations for action by the board. Friberg served for 17 consecutive years, at which point he diverted his focus to create a joint action gas agency in Nebraska. Once that found success, Friberg again joined the EC in 2010 — a role he continues to serve to this day. As someone who was with WPPI Energy from its early days, Friberg’s insight and wisdom are deemed invaluable.
“Bob has so much institutional knowledge to share, which continues to strengthen the organization as it evolves to meet member needs,” remarked Lauri Isaacson, Vice President of Member Relations for WPPI Energy. “Locally, he is just as invested in his community and moving Florence forward. During a recent trip, as an example, he showed me a new electric vehicle charging station, which the utility installed to promote advancing transportation technologies.”
Kim Jennings, Director of Business Solutions with WPPI Energy, had a similar experience. Talking about it, she said, “Bob has been a big help in educating other member utilities in the area. He recently oversaw the construction of a new Florence Utility Commission office building, and has already used the new space to host a two-day educational training session on new software.”
Bob Friberg, General Manager Florence Utilities
Impacting the Community
Friberg’s decades with Florence Utility Commission have trickled into the community, where his impact can be seen in relationships with the major businesses the utility powers.
One of the largest power users in the community is Florence County School. The school serves the entire county and recently took significant steps to eliminate energy waste by incorporating energy efficiency measures during a major $13 million renovation. With help from Focus on Energy, WPPI Energy and Florence Utilities, the school’s indoor environment was improved while the facility reduced its electricity and natural gas usage.
Jeff Forbes, an Energy Services Representative with WPPI Energy, is dedicated to Florence Utilities and the residents and businesses they serve. Part of his job includes monitoring energy efficiency and offering technical guidance and support services to optimize energy spend. “Florence has a lot going on. From their new commission building, the school renovations, and a new website, they’re keeping busy. It’s fun being a part of their team while they continuously work to benefit the town.”
Another large power user is Florence Hardwoods, said Forbes. “They’re a growing, value-added sawmill. They put in two new kilns in the past years, and they’re working to add two more.” Florence Utilities continues to expand as well, as they work to develop the industrial park in preparation for large incoming customers.
Onward and Upward
From its early days as a rugged mining town to its current state providing K-12 education for the entire county, Florence continues to modernize and move forward. Florence Utilities is there to provide the energy expertise, resources, and power to do so.