Member Spotlight

Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin

 A historic fire boat is on display near the Michigan Street Bridge.

Sturgeon Bay Utilities (SBU) is celebrating 110 years in 2014 as a locally owned, not-for-profit electric and water utility in Wisconsin’s Door County.

It’s one of many noteworthy distinctions about Sturgeon Bay, a city of about 9,100 that is surrounded by water on three sides: Green Bay, Sturgeon Bay and Lake Michigan.

The waterfront showcases the city’s maritime past and present. On display are many of the barges, dredges and thousand-footers that Bay Shipbuilding builds and repairs. Near the Michigan Street Bridge, workers put the finishing touches on a luxury yacht crafted by Palmer Johnson. The historic ocean-going tug John Purves is open for tours outside the Door County Maritime Museum.

A sign at Sawyer Park and special flags proclaim Sturgeon Bay the nation’s 15th Coast Guard City. The city is home to three Coast Guard stations, bringing many service members and their families to the community.

First settled in 1835, Sturgeon Bay’s economy originally was based on lumbering before the canal linking Green Bay with Lake Michigan opened to shipping in 1881.

Today the city has a solid manufacturing base in addition to shipbuilding. Machining companies, metal fabrication and plastic injection molding businesses employ hundreds, and the industrial park is expanding.

SBU General Manager Jim Stawicki participates in regular meetings of the Door County Economic Development Corporation and the Door County Manufacturers Association.

“When you look at our load here, we’re pretty balanced. Just over 30% of our load is manufacturing and industrial. A third is commercial and general service, and another third is residential,” said Stawicki, who has been at SBU for 10 years.

The utility serves the city and four surrounding townships, covering about 100 square miles – much of it rural – and is governed by a seven-member commission.

“Our city recognizes that it’s nice to own your own utility – for competitive rates, local control and from a payment-in-lieu-of-tax (PILOT) standpoint,” Stawicki said. SBU contributes a PILOT payment of about $750,000 a year to the city.

Meeting Customer Needs

The sun sets over the waterfront near Michigan Street Bridge in Sturgeon Bay.

Tourism is a year-round business for Sturgeon Bay, which attracts visitors to its museums, galleries, theaters, shops, restaurants, water activities and events such as the Steel Bridge Songfest.

The city’s thriving small business segment prompted staff at Sturgeon Bay Utilities to develop the Main Street Efficiency Program. The program’s goal is to help business owners identify efficiency projects and to provide limited-time bonus incentives – in addition to those offered through the statewide Focus on Energy program – to ensure that projects are completed in a timely way. Energy Services Representative Melissa Moren sends a mailing to target customers, followed by phone calls and personal visits.

Residential customers benefit from rebates and incentives available from SBU and Focus on Energy.

Renewable energy incentives have been popular as well. “We have a green-minded community here,” Stawicki said. A local business has installed solar panels for several homeowners, and SBU’s solar buyback program is fully subscribed. To date, SBU has sponsored two community-based renewable energy projects: solar panels at the high school and three flower-shaped Solar Flairs™ outside the utility office and fire station. The utility also worked with Crossroads at Big Creek, a history and environmental learning center, on their solar installations. 

The transition to advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) is SBU’s biggest initiative in 2014. So far, 55 customers are on the Large Power Metering & Billing Service offered by WPPI Energy. Going forward, the utility will install Elster AMI water and electric meters for all customers to replace aging technology. Installation begins in August with the utility’s approximately 3,000 residential meters in the city, with full deployment planned for summer 2015.

In recent years, SBU has focused on building a new substation and installing new transformers to enhance reliability, given that the community is bisected by water.

“We’re probably the only community in the WPPI Energy system that is fed at one of our substations by submarine conductor from the transmission system. We needed redundancy on both sides of the bay, and we only had one substation on the east side,” Stawicki explained.

Spirit of Joint Action

Crossroads at Big Creek, an educational center in Sturgeon Bay, installed a solar array and collector with technical support from the utility.
Stawicki has been the utility’s general manager for a decade. He started his career in public accounting, working with manufacturing clients for a large firm in Milwaukee. He and his wife, Tina, returned to her hometown of Sturgeon Bay for his new accounting job with a shipbuilding firm, followed by a similar position at a machining company.

He’s learned the utility business from the colleagues he has gotten to know through WPPI Energy and his staff. “It’s like any organization: You surround yourself with good people and let them do their jobs,” he said.

The utility has 21 employees, plus additional contractors on the water side. Dorothy Michiels, a 27-year employee, serves as the public face of the utility as the one who most often interacts with customers.

With a young electric crew – ranging in age from early 20s to early 40s – SBU has brought back its annual summer picnic, complete with a bounce house for the many young children.

Stawicki has served on the WPPI Energy Board of Directors throughout his tenure. He joined the Executive Committee in 2006, serves as the chair of the Personnel Committee and the Benefit Plan Trust Board, and has participated in the American Public Power Association’s Legislative Rally.

“In the spirit of joint action, it makes sense for me to give back to the entity that supports us in so many ways – and to have a say in the organization. It’s common sense and good management,” he said.



Sturgeon Bay fast facts

County: Door

Number of utility customers: 8,634 electric and water customers

Utility website: 

Sturgeon Bay’s Harvest Festival & Street Art Auction is planned for Sept. 20.

Door County has five state parks and 250 miles of shoreline along Lake Michigan – more than any other county in the country.

WPPI Energy member since 1980.