The kind of growth that the city of Hartford has experienced over the last four decades requires a strong pro-business environment – and as a public power utility, Hartford Electric has enabled that environment to thrive.
Since 1980, the population of the southeastern Wisconsin city has doubled, from 7,159 to 15,384. At 60 MW, Hartford has the third-largest load of all WPPI Energy members.
Customers include large industrial customers such as Quad/Graphics, a commercial printing company that employs more than 1,000 people, Broan-NuTone, which manufactures household products including doorbells and range hoods with over 800 workers, Signicast, which specializes in precision casting and employs 800-plus, and Hartford Finishing, the largest industrial powder coater in Wisconsin, with 500 employees.
“At the City of Hartford, we provide a great advantage over some of our comparable communities when attracting new businesses because we provide our own electric utility,” said City Administrator Steve Volkert. “Through our partnership with WPPI Energy, we provide a more reliable electrical service with local, personal service, which is vital to highly automated manufacturers.”
Responsive to the Community
Hartford Electric Director Brian Rhodes has witnessed the city’s steady expansion since he started working as a lineman there in 1993. He worked as a journeyman lineman for 10 years before moving into management and taking on the role as director eight years ago.
“Linework is fun; it’s challenging yet rewarding. But moving into management is equally as rewarding. It gives you an opportunity to look at the electric industry in a different light – pardon the pun – to look at some of the challenges that the industry has faced and be part of that solution to find ways to make it work better, more efficiently,” Rhodes said.
Hartford Electric has seven linemen and two utility technicians – former meter readers who now help the line crew with low voltage work. The finance department at city hall handles all billing. Mike Thimm is the utility superintendent and Mike Gentry is the utility’s energy services representative.
While reliability and low cost are significant benefits, Hartford Electric customers receive even greater value with the services and support available through a locally owned and operated public power utility. “Hartford Electric has one main purpose and that is to provide customers with the best services at the lowest possible cost. Community ownership and control is the hallmark of public power — local people working together to meet local needs,” Gentry said.
“Providing great customer service is an important part of that responsibility. Hartford operations and billing personnel are quick to respond with friendly and helpful service. For my part, I help foster this energy partnership by working directly with the customers to improve how energy is used at their facilities.”
Hartford Electric is proactive in promoting the statewide energy efficiency program Focus on Energy as well as local programs offered directly through WPPI Energy and the utility. One example of this is when the utility worked with Quad Graphics, Broan NuTone, Signicast and Menasha Packaging on Strategic Energy Management (SEM), a Focus on Energy initiative. Gentry is a member of each company’s energy team and is driven to help find savings through the efficiency. In fact, these four Hartford customers are among the original 30 SEM leaders who helped pave the way for other businesses across the state to achieve significant savings as well.
On the municipal side, Hartford Electric helped the city secure assistance through WPPI Energy’s New Construction Design Assistance program for the Jack Russell Memorial Library and the city hall/police station. To promote energy efficiency at the city recreation center, the utility donated 100 indoor TLED lamps and provided incentives for new LED outdoor parking area lights to replace energy intensive HID lighting. The utility is also exploring LED options for street lighting with support from the city.
Economic development remains a constant focus, with Hartford Electric providing not only financial contributions but also expertise to organizations such as the Hartford Area Economic Development Corp. and the Downtown Hartford Business Improvement District.
Strength through Public Power
Hartford has a solid history of championing public power. This spring, Mayor Timothy Michalak demonstrated his support at the American Public Power Association Legislative Rally in Washington, D.C.
“Our utility has grown significantly since I first started. Over this time period, we have made significant changes to how we complete our jobs. We reduced our staff size and now complete most jobs without the use of contractors. As a result, we have to purchase more equipment and the Utility Committee and Common Council have been very supportive.”
Hartford has a unique partnership with fellow WPPI Energy member community Slinger. The relationship between the two utilities began when Hartford needed a location for another substation, and it happened to be in Slinger’s service territory. That led to a joint venture to build the substation there, with Slinger also using the transformer to supply their customers. In addition, Hartford provides lineworker staffing through a shared operating agreement. “We’re able to offset costs on both sides,” Rhodes said. Rhodes serves as the utility’s representative on the WPPI Energy Board of Directors, and Thimm is a member of the Distribution Services Advisory Group (DSAG).
“It gives us the opportunity to say what would work out in the field and a voice in what services are really needed at the utility,” Rhodes said. “There’s a lot of time spent internally here in my office talking about the best way to serve our customers and the most efficient way to do that.”
In fact, during a recent rate adjustment, residential rates went down.
“The utility and the city are both very customer-focused,” Rhodes said. “The goal is to provide benefit to everybody, not just shareholders, and that really does make a difference here.”