Public power started in New Holstein with one simple question for voters of the village of New Holstein on Election Day, June 20, 1912: “Shall the Village of New Holstein have electric lights.”
I have to wonder if the people who voted “yes” that day had any idea of the impact of the vote for decades, and now, a century later, on our community. If the vote had been “no,” surely the village would have received electric service at some point in time. But, would that electric service have been municipally owned or investor owned? There is definitely a difference in philosophy between the two utilities.
As a municipally-owned entity, the electric utility has been a valuable asset to the community of New Holstein. Also known as public power, a municipally owned electric utility provides the benefits of affordable electric costs, excellent customer service and local control.
Public power utilities are owned and operated by the communities they serve, and therefore are not-for-profit. The income that is earned is invested back into the utility and community. Did you know that New Holstein Utilities (NHU) makes payment-in-lieu-of-taxes (PILOT) to the city every year? In 2011, NHU paid $267,868 (includes the water utility) to the City of New Holstein. This money is invested into the community’s general fund. Capital improvements totaling $269,639 were invested back into the electric distribution system.
Another important benefit with public power utilities is local control. This means that decisions are made by utility boards or commissions represented by local citizens, not at some corporate office possibly located hundreds of miles away with no connection to our community. The Utility Commission meetings are open to the public where opinions can be voiced. You cannot do that in a corporate board room.
Our management and Utility Commission knows the local needs and recommends rates, makes policies and considers programs based on the needs of our community. Unlike the larger investor-owned utilities, we stay focused on local operations. With staff here in New Holstein, we are able to respond quickly to customer inquiries or concerns.
I’ve had people ask me how New Holstein Utilities can stay competitive as we are a small utility. Although we are not as big as public power communities such as Austin, Memphis, Orlando, Sacramento or Seattle, New Holstein is aligned with 50 other public power communities as members of WPPI Energy. We have been members of WPPI Energy since its inception in 1980. By combining our resources, the members of WPPI Energy are able to gain efficiencies in the purchasing and generation of electricity, as well as receiving large savings through joint purchases of materials (poles, wire, transformers, etc.), billing and metering, data management and many other services.
New Holstein Utilities is also a member of the Municipal Electric Utilities of Wisconsin (MEUW), an organization of 82 community-owned electric utilities. The mission of MEUW is to lead, unify, advance and protect the interests of municipally-owned electric utilities. The organization provides various training for its members including a very proactive safety program. MEUW also has the capability to coordinate a statewide Mutual Aid Program for its members.
By working with WPPI Energy and MEUW, New Holstein Utilities is able to stay in touch regarding legislative and regulatory issues that ultimately impact the cost of service and operations in our community. Current key issues at the federal level include EPA regulatory issues, cyber security and the preservation of tax-exempt status on municipal/utility financing. Economic development rates and possible changes to the PILOT calculations are important topics of discussion at the state level. As members of these organizations, all working together, we have the power to do more than working on our own.
If you are interested in learning more about these organizations and our community’s relationship with them, I strongly encourage you to visit their Web sites. You can also learn more about public power by visiting www.whypublicpower.org.
Like that June day in 1912 when the successful vote for electric service was brought about by the strength of the community to say “yes,” the continued success of our public power utility will lie in people. Those people will be the customers (the owners of our utility), the Utility Commission and the utility staff of New Holstein Utilities.
The staff at New Holstein Utilities enjoys serving our customers. Like the citizens of New Holstein in 1912, we do not know what the future will bring, but be certain that New Holstein Utilities will do our very best to uphold the rich tradition of supplying affordable, reliable and safe utility services to our customers.
In closing, if you have any questions or concerns about your utility service, my door is always open, so please do not hesitate to stop by to see me or to contact me. We look forward to seeing you at the Centennial Celebration. To assist our planning efforts, please RSVP if you plan to attend the picnic meal. Thank you.
(Randy Jaeckels is the current general manager of New Holstein Utilities.)