|Many historic buildings still stand in downtown Plymouth, whose history is celebrated in 25 colorful murals. A group of traveling artists called the Walldogs painted the murals over three days in June 2011 with assistance from many area residents.
Twenty-five brightly colored murals decorate the outer brick walls of buildings in downtown Plymouth, Wisconsin, paying homage to the city’s history and the businesses that have helped the community grow and prosper.
All of the city’s homes and businesses have been, and continue to be, powered by Plymouth Utilities, which began in 1895 when Plymouth Refrigerator, Water, Light and Power Co. a privately owned company, began generating electricity for a few people from a water-powered mill.
Today the utility – locally owned and not-for-profit since 1901, with 26 employees – provides electric service to more than 7,800 homes and businesses in the city and in parts of 10 surrounding townships. Those within the city also get water and wastewater services.
Plymouth is best known for its world-class cheese makers, supported by the small and large dairy farms that surround the city. It’s the former home of the National Cheese Exchange, which later moved to Green Bay and now is part of the Chicago Merchantile Exchange.
“Originally we were the Wall Street of Cheese,” said City Administrator/Utilities Manager Brian Yerges. Plymouth recently acquired the official rights to use the trademark Cheese Capital of the World™ in its marketing efforts.
“Our city and utility staff takes pride in knowing that we have close partnerships with local industry,” Yerges said. “We provide the water and the power to these national and world brands.”
Modernizing the Utility
Modernizing spaces – while not losing traditional principles – has been a theme for the city, and notably, the utility in recent years.
Antoinette the cow, a statue weighing over 1,000 pounds, has been a local landmark since the city’s centennial celebration in 1977.
Dedicated in 2013, the Plymouth Utilities Operations Center replaced a 100-year-old building. The new building features geothermal, in-floor radiant heating; LED exterior lighting; and two 2.9-kilowatt (kW) dual axis solar arrays to generate electricity. In the past two years, the city has added its first new water reservoir since 1941 and first new well since 1986.
At the same time, Plymouth Utilities upgraded its existing digester at the wastewater treatment plant, for which it received more than $300,000 in grants. The facility uses high-strength waste from local cheese companies, creating methane gas that powers two new 65-kW micro turbines, generating 80% of the plant’s energy needs.
Soon, the 75-year-old City Hall will have rooftop solar panels to offset part of the building’s energy usage, funded in part with a $25,000 grant from WPPI Energy’s Renewable Energy for Non-Profits RFP program.
More changes are coming. The city will convert to LED street lighting, with about 700 fixtures scheduled for replacement over the next three years. Another significant project will be making the switch to advanced metering infrastructure, or AMI, in the years ahead to enable two-way interaction between the utility and customers.
From an operations standpoint, the utility recently updated its bills to a more user-friendly graphic format through the WPPI Energy Outsourced Retail Billing Service and upgraded its accounting software.
Throughout the past few years, the city has continually sought to streamline functions with its One Plymouth initiative, “with the vision of creating one seamless efficient government organization by sharing people, resources and expertise throughout city departments,” according to the utility’s winter/spring report to customers.
One example is Yerges’ position, which is shared 50/50 between the city and the utility.
“We’re no longer looked at as two separate entities or organizations,” Yerges said. “The city can’t really be successful without the utility, and the utility can’t be successful without the city.”
|Plymouth City Hall is installing rooftop solar panels to offset part of the building's energy usage.
As in many communities, the utility is the largest contributor to the city’s budget, with a payment in lieu of taxes of more than $450,000.
Without a locally owned utility, taxpayers would have to make up the difference in higher property taxes, points out Mayor Don Pohlman. “Plymouth Utilities offers our customers low rates, personal service and high reliability,” he said. “Our employees live here and take pride in their community.”
In addition to promoting local programs such as Tree Power and the AC Tune Up Rebate, Plymouth Utilities offers residential customers Focus on Energy rebates and the ENERGY STAR® Partners program.
“We give incentives for the purchase of ENERGY STAR-rated TVs, dehumidifiers, freezers, air conditioners, washers and other appliances,” explained Energy Services Representative Frank Barth. “Why do we give an incentive for a television? Well, 20 years ago, you had one TV in your house. Today you’ve got five, so it’s important that the equipment is energy efficient.”
At Mill Street Days in July, Barth handed out prizes to those who could power a series of incandescent lights on the Pedal Power bike to promote energy efficiency. During Public Power Week in October, utility customers can exchange an old set of incandescent holiday lights or a non-perishable food item for a new string of LED holiday lights or an LED bulb.
Barth meets regularly with commercial and industrial customers to promote utility programs and services, most recently to introduce MyMeter, which, once available throughout the WPPI Energy membership, will provide valuable energy usage data.
Among the utility’s program offerings for C&I customers is a Farm Rewiring Program to assist with the upfront costs of improving farm electrical systems.
Local Control Still Important
Yerges posted to the city’s blog and Facebook page a speech from a former Plymouth Utilities manager, thought to be written in the 1960s or ’70s. “The themes of local ownership, local control, and responsiveness still ring true today,” he wrote.
The utility, governed by the eight-person Common Council, has experienced firsthand the benefits of local decision-making with all the projects completed over the past few years, Yerges said.
“When we make decisions on projects, it’s not about trying to get a greater rate of return, it’s about projects that are needed in the community. Our motivation is: How do we provide safe, secure, stable, long-term service at the most affordable cost possible?” Yerges said. “A lot of municipal utilities have stood the test of time so far because our motivation is aligned with that of our citizens.”