Electric utility brings linemen home
By Mike Mathes

With a new stable of journeymen linemen in place, the Kiel Electric Utility is moving forward with a commitment to its local workforce.

In late 2012, the utility, with leadership and support from the Kiel City Council took the plunge to hire additional linemen, bringing work back in house that had been outsourced for the past several years.

In prior years, the Kiel Electric Utility contracted for lead and lineman services with Manitowoc Public Utilities.

When the MPU leader, Al Biely, retired last year, the city decided to review that working arrangement.

“That really put us in a position to review how we were running the utilities,” Dennis Dedering, Kiel City Administrator said.

“We took the leadership role back within the utility. The Council stepped up to the plate and agreed to work with Ryan Henschel as our foreman,” he added.

The result of that leadership change precipitated the hiring of two journeyman linemen, both with previous local experience.

“We were fortunate to get two highly qualified linemen to work in our utilities without having to put them through training or apprenticeship,” Henschel said.

Henschel and Larry Arenz, the longest tenured lineman on staff with 17 years experience, were joined by Adam Onesti and Ryan Mirsberger.

Onesti had prior experience with the Kiel and New Holstein Electric Utilities, while Mirsberger came with 14 years experience in New Holstein.

New role for Henschel

For Henschel, the role of utility foreman is a new one—one which he agrees he will be growing into.

“As a foreman, you have to do a little bit of everything—setting up jobs, budgeting, ordering, planning, performing the work and closing out the folders,” he said. “I don’t want to be in the office every day,” he said. Henschel sees himself being out with the crews 80 percent of the time or better.

For the next 18 months, Henschel will be going through some extensive training as the utility’s foreman. He expects to attend classes around the state which

The staff at the Kiel Electric Utility has changed this year to take on a more local flavor. From left are Debbie Casper, Larry Arenz, Ryan Mirsberger, Adam Onesti and KEU foreman Ryan Henschel. The utility also receives a lot of help from part-time employee Charley Bruckner.

focus on management and leadership.

Flexibility improves

The utility’s move to a local foreman and three additional linemen will ease the crunch for on-call services. With four people available to be on call, the number doubles from the previous two.

“When you only have two people, it puts a lot of stress on them, because it seems like they are always on call,” Henschel said.

Engineering services

In addition to beefing up the local staff, the Kiel Electric Utility also signed a revised working agreement with MPU.

This enables the KEU to continue to use the engineering services of MPU for major projects.

“This way we don’t lose their highly technical training and services,” Deder-ing said. “We have done a lot of major work on upgrading our electrical delivery system the past five years, and MPU played a major role in that.”

Henschel added, “A lot of that work was really the tip of the iceberg. With a lot of our system now being 60-70 years old, we have to look at some other work in the system beyond the main feeds.”

Some of that work becomes possible because of the evaporation of the housing boom. When the city was seeing all the development in the Rockville subdivision, the utility was inundated with providing service to new housing starts.

“We spent a lot of our time just getting customers powered up,” Henschel said.

Now that those things have slowed down, the KEU worked at improving reliability for major industrial customers and improving the main loops of the system.

Moving forward, Henschel sees potential projects in the rural portions of the KEU service area. Foundry Road and Lax Chapel Road are two key areas that will need attention.

“We have a lot of wire out there in our system that is still from the World War II era. We will want to replace that with the latest and greatest to improve reliability,” he added.

Rate news good for customers

The electrical rates for KEU customers remain among the most affordable in the area.

Dedering said the rates dropped in the range of 3 to 4 percent this year. “People will see it on the PCAC side of their bill,” he noted. The PCAC is the adjusted cost of purchased power for the utility.

Dedering added that the purchased power agreements of the city continue to show promise for the next two to three years.

Kiel continues to benefit from participation in the Great Lakes Utilities (GLU) power purchasing consortium.