Menasha is part of the Fox Cities, 20 communities that together make up one of Wisconsin’s largest urban areas. Menasha is sometimes referred to as “Your Place on The Water” since its location alongside Lake Winnebago, Little Lake Butte des Morts and the mouth of the Fox River makes it an ideal location for water-centric industries and recreation.
Menasha Utilities (MU) was established in 1906 and provides electric services to 9,055 customers and water services to 5,022 customers. The utility was a founding member of the statewide trade association Municipal Electric Utilities of Wisconsin, commonly known as MEUW.
MU has been a WPPI Energy member since 1981, and many MU employees have been active on advisory groups and committees throughout the years.
“I think there’s great benefit to having a joint partnership with other members and with WPPI,” says General Manager Melanie Krause. “It’s important to be able to share ideas and take lessons learned, resources, etc. from other members and tailor them to our organization.”
The WPPI Energy community was especially important to Menasha in 2011, when the city faced financial issues stemming from the closing of their unprofitable steam plant.
WPPI Energy bought MU’s electric distribution assets and leased them back to the utility so operations could continue. This transaction provided the revenue needed to resolve their financial issues. Although the transaction involved some risk, it was important to the other WPPI Energy members to ensure the health of their fellow utility and the WPPI Energy membership as a whole.
“One of the foundations of joint action is that we have each other’s back. The lease-back agreement is a good example of how joint action was able to provide opportunities that wouldn’t have been available otherwise,” says Mike Peters, President and CEO of WPPI Energy.
At the beginning of March, MU was able to buy back its assets and close on the lease agreement 14 years sooner than the original 20-year term. The utility financed the repurchase through the BCPL State Trust Fund Loan Program, and in doing so will save their customers over $2.5 million.
“It’s a great partnership that we have with WPPI Energy to be able to accomplish what we did, says, Krause. “They helped us through that difficult time, and now we are able to refinance and buy back our assets in our sixth year of lease payments. The utility is stronger and we can move forward.”
In 2014, the steam plant got a new purpose as a food processing facility when the utility sold it to Simply Incredible Foods. It was a win-win situation. Simply Incredible Foods got space to expand, and the utility was able to focus on their core electric and water distribution services.
“From my perspective, to take a steam utility plant and convert it over to a food processing facility is pretty visionary. It was a unique circumstance that provided benefit for both our organizations,” says Krause.
Menasha has a full service marina with 87 seasonal boat slips, boater amenities and a gift shop
Strong Local Industry
MU is the second largest WPPI Energy member utility in terms of load, with 75 percent of that load coming from nine industrial customers. Among these are SCA Tissue, a manufacturer of consumer tissue products; U.S. Paper Mills Corp., a paper and packaging manufacturer; Coveris, a packaging and coating company; and RR Donnelly/LSC Communications, a printing, binding and marketing company.
As an MU customer, SCA Tissue is eligible for incentive funding from WPPI Energy and state progra m Focus on Energy. The two organizations recently contributed $66,500 and $9,000 respectively to help SCA Tissue develop and install coordinated air compressor system controls to maximize the system and collect data to improve energy efficiency and plan maintenance. It’s estimated that the project will save 1,730,000 kilowatt-hours (kWh) of energy per year for an annual savings of $115,000.
MU is also in the third and final year of an LED street lighting project with the City of Menasha. City officials plan to upgrade over 800 street lights to energy efficient LED lights. The city is receiving $34,200 from WPPI Energy’s Utility and Municipal Building efficiency incentive program and another $34,200 from Focus on Energy for the project. It’s projected to help the city save 393,000 kWh of energy and $64,460 every year in energy and monthly fixed charges.
As a locally owned, not-for-profit utility, MU hosts several events to “try to get out in the public and put a face to the utility,” says Krause. These include an electronics recycling event in the spring and fall; a booth at the Menasha Farm Fresh Market with LED light bulbs and other giveaways; and an annual breakfast where landlords and utility employees discuss energy efficiency programs, regulatory concerns and the utility’s collection process.
In the first full week of October, the utility hosts its annual Public Power Week celebration. The community event includes free energy efficiency kits; refreshments; booths from partner organizations; and interactive displays put together by the line crew, including a transformer demonstration, a scaled down electric pole, and a display toilet to show how to detect leaks.
Menasha’s unique waterfront location continues to attract businesses, residents and visitors to the community. As the city grows, utility employees continue to look for ways to further improve programs, services and tools to meet the needs of customers.