New customers and new construction projects made 2013 one of the busiest years in Waunakee Utilities’ 99-year history, and 2014 is expected to bring just as much activity.
|Pictured are Waunakee Utilities’ 16 electric and water utilities employees.
It’s part of ongoing growth for the village, which has experienced a 97% increase in population since 1990. Known for its strong school system and close proximity to both the east and west sides of Madison, Waunakee now has nearly 13,000 residents.
Last spring the utility finalized a territory agreement with an investor-owned utility, which allows Waunakee Utilities to exclusively serve an area recently annexed into the village that the other utility formerly served.
As part of the agreement, utility staff went door to door to get permission from more than 50 customers of the other utility to switch electric providers. In nearly every case, Waunakee Utilities was able to offer a lower monthly bill, and 100 percent granted their consent, said General Manager Tim Herlitzka.
The utility also gained Endres Manufacturing, a steel fabrication company, as a new commercial customer.
“The agreement opened up our ability to serve immediate areas around the village without any costly territory disputes,” Herlitzka said. “Our philosophy is that anybody within the geographic boundary of the village should be a Waunakee Utilities customer. That may not have been the case if we did not execute this agreement.”
At the same time, several new building projects throughout the village have given Electric Superintendent Dave Dresen’s crew
plenty to do.
|Waunakee’s schools have achieved high rankings, which has contributed to the village’s significant growth over the past two decades.
“We’ve been busy with the new developments. We’ve put in infrastructure to about 140 residential lots in 2013,” Dresen said.
In 2014, the electrical crew will continue installing infrastructure in one of the village’s recently annexed areas south of the village off Highway Q. The area adds another 300 residential lots, plus planned commercial areas. A new clinic and dental office already have opened their doors.
But the growth isn’t limited to the outskirts of the village. A new multi-story, 78-unit apartment building complex with underground parking and 3,700 square feet of commercial space will be built by this summer on the corner of Main and Madison Streets.
Main Street will get an added boost with a new roundabout on one of the village’s major intersections, Highway 19/Highway 113 and County Highway Q. In addition to relieving congestion, the state Department of Transportation project will add new street lighting.
Last year the utility also replaced one of its older substations, which will help with the additional load and allow for maintenance on the three other substations.
“A lot of the credit in getting all the work done lies directly with Dave and his staff. They really worked a lot of extra hours to get all the work done,” Herlitzka said. When fully staffed, the electric utility has a staff of eight. Waunakee Utilities has 16 employees total and is governed by a seven-member utility commission.
|The Waunakee Village Center is located on a redeveloped site that once was home to a canning factory.
Dresen, who started with the utility 28 years ago as a lineman, has served on the Distribution Services Advisory Group for 13 years and is the current vice chair. The group recently led efforts to launch a new RFQ module for joint purchasing.
Water & Sewer Department Manager Randy Dorn serves on the Information Technology Advisory Group.
“Our power supply is a big component of our overall operations, so it’s important to us to be a part of the decision-making process at WPPI,” Herlitzka said. “I also believe that WPPI is only as good as its members are, which means we have a responsibility to participate.”
In addition to being the village’s largest taxpayer, contributing more than $770,000 a year in payments in lieu of taxes, the public power utility finds many ways to put customers first.
Each year the utility sponsors its Warm Neighbors campaign, which offers customers a strand of LED Christmas lights for each warm clothing item or financial donation they make to the low-income energy assistance program. In 2013 customers gave more than $1,200 in cash in addition to the many jackets, pairs of boots and other clothing items they donated.
Waunakee Utilities offers rebates for tree planting in the spring, plus various rebates and incentives available through Focus on Energy. Many residents took advantage of free energy-efficiency light bulbs and more through Focus’ Express Energy Efficiency program.
Education is another emphasis for Waunakee Utilities.
Within the past few years, Waunakee High School upgraded its solar panel system with financial support from the utility, and the intermediate school installed a small unit for educational purposes. The utility has worked with the district on energy use benchmarking; assists district staff with energy efficiency measures; offers scholarships to high school seniors; and sponsors National Theatre for Children performances, sports teams and more.
An Energy and Wellness Fair, held in partnership with the Lions Club, provides a chance for utility staff to interact with customers. Energy Services Representative Joseph Owen is there with activities like the Pedal Power bike.
Even with its growth, Waunakee is still small enough that utility workers have a visible role in the community, Dresen said.
“I think that what really sets us apart from other energy providers is how we interact with our customers on a daily basis,” Herlitzka said. “It’s not our utility. It’s our customers’ utility, and we try to manage it in a way that is in their best interests.”
Members of the utility staff also make time for industry involvement. Herlitzka came to the utility in May 2005, bringing 12 years of experience working directly with municipal utilities at a large accounting and consulting firm. He has served on WPPI Energy’s Executive Committee since 2012 and is the current treasurer, as well as the chair of the Finance and Audit Committee. He is also a member of the Rates & Delivery Service Advisory Group.
This Member Spotlight originally appeared in the Spring 2014 Power Report newsletter.