|Waupun's City Hall. Photo courtesy of the Waupun Tourism Office
A Hometown Utility
By the time we leave our lunch interview at the Brittain House, a cozy supper club in Waupun, Wis., Randy Posthuma, general manager of Waupun Utilities (WU), has already exchanged greetings with several people. Posthuma, a friendly and easy going person, is clearly well known in the community.
“I think it’s important as a representative of the utility to interact with customers face-to-face outside of the utility office,” he says.
He’s always considered this area of Wisconsin home. Born and raised near Randolph, he moved to Waupun after marrying his high school sweetheart. He and his family have been here ever since. He started as a lineman at Waupun Utilities in 1990, and though he’s been general manager since 2013, he still takes care of some of the electrical operations duties.
WU Staff: Hire for the Personality, Train for the Position
WU has accomplished much over the years, and Posthuma is quick to credit his staff for the utility’s successes. He visibly beams when he talks about them.
“I’ve had the opportunity to build a strong staff, and I enjoy helping all of my employees advance in their careers and grow,” he says. “My theory has always been, ‘hire for the personality, train for the position…You can teach someone skills for the job. You can’t change someone’s personality.’”
Rising to the Challenge of AMI
The employees at the utility are passionate about the work they do and maintain a positive attitude, even when faced with new challenges. In 2013, WU replaced outdated meters and equipment with advanced metering infrastructure (AMI). WU was one of the
|"The Pioneers," a sculpture by local artist Clarence Shaler, was donated to the city in 1940. Photo courtesy of the Waupun Tourism Office
first WPPI Energy members to pioneer the effort to move to AMI. Although completely overhauling equipment, software and processes is a daunting process, the team’s eagerness to learn and adapt made the transition a success.
“Randy Bentley and Steve Brooks who work out in the field were eager to learn the technology inside and out,” says Posthuma. “Jen Benson, our billing clerk, dove full force into learning the new billing procedure. She was really up for the challenge.”
Jared Oosterhouse, WU’s finance director, led the effort to streamline reports and processes to simplify collection and billing procedures. He continues to work closely with the utility’s customer information software to fine tune metering and reads. Oosterhouse recently received WPPI Energy’s Shining Star Award, which recognizes utility managers or employees who have shown notable growth and leadership over the past year.
The knowledge that WU employees acquired not only helped them meet the challenges of moving to AMI, but allowed them to help other WPPI Energy members plan their own AMI projects.
“We wanted to help our fellow utilities, because we want AMI to be successful for everybody. We know it’s not just about Waupun,” says Posthuma, who was recently elected to the Executive Committee of the WPPI Energy Board of Directors. “Working with other utilities allows us to build from the experiences of others and vice versa. It’s one of the best ways for everyone to move forward.”
The utility’s adoption of AMI has made a number of operation procedures simpler and more efficient and helps the utility provide customers with automated billing services, more detailed information about their energy use and faster notification and resolution of power outages.
“AMI has completely changed our processes, says Posthuma. “We’re able to conduct and control disconnects, automate billing, and integrate advanced meter data into the customer information system. AMI facilitates an interactive experience for both staff and customers.”
A Strong Utility for a Strong Community
The people of WU think it’s important to have a good relationship with the community they serve.
“We respect the customer,” says Posthuma, “even if it’s something as simple as a lineman taking off his dark sunglasses when he talks to a customer so he can look that customer in the eye and engage with him or her.” Put simply, “We want our customers to feel like they are treated the best by us.”
“We want to see the community succeed, and I think a strong utility is the foundation of the success of the community,” says Posthuma.
On the Horizon
WU employees plan to do a city-wide voltage conversion from 4,160 to over 12,000 volts in the next five years. This will provide more robust capacity and result in fewer outages and more reliable power.
They also want to continue to provide logistical and financial support to help large industrial customers make their facilities more energy efficient.
Finally, they want to continue expanding AMI functionality to include outage management and a customer billing information portal. These changes will give customers more control over their energy spending, more insight into how they use energy throughout the day, and increased ability to do business with the utility online.
Says Posthuma, “I have a passion for the success of the utility and community, and I think I can play a role through that passion…I’m concerned that there’s a stereotype that the capabilities of little, municipal utilities are less than those of the large investor-owned utilities. I love to prove that stereotype wrong.”