New manager at BELW utilities
Flip a switch and the light comes on. Crank on the faucet and water streams out. Little things like this happen every day, but not many think about where it all comes from.
Until the power goes out.
Luckily, the residents of Blue Earth have Blue Earth Light and Water on watch to make sure that doesn’t happen. Or, if it does happen, it will last maybe 15 minutes instead of eight hours or longer.
The new Blue Earth Light and Water general manager, Tim Stoner, has confidence in his team.
“I’ve known this group for quite some time,” says Stoner.
Before becoming the general manager on March 1, he worked as a consultant for almost 10 years with Minnesota Municipal Utilities Association (MMUA).
“The biggest asset has been watching how these other utilities ran,” Stoner says.
His experience through MMUA gave him glimpses of what managing a site would entail.
Until he gets his feet set firmly as the general manager, Stoner enlists the help of Paul Leland and Curt LaMaack, his predecessors.
Eleven full-time staffers make up the team at Blue Earth Light and Water.
“This (utility) is actually set up pretty nice,” says Stoner. “They have a great board. They’ve got some very knowledgeable people; some skilled people.”
Aside from a great staff of skilled individuals, Blue Earth Light and Water has another quality that makes it stand out from the crowd of other utility companies in the area:?It is owned by the community.
Stoner explains, “Most municipal utilities are owned by the city and run by the city staff. Years ago, (Blue Earth) set up a separate charter. We have an independently active board that oversees my actions. There’s only two of those in the state.”
He goes on to say that this style of utility keeps the money where it needs to be for a smooth-running operation.
On top of being a separate entity from the city government, Blue Earth Light and Water also maintains a set of generators. This can make a big difference to the people receiving service.
“We have enough capacity to carry the town for the most part. We are a little bit shy, but we’re taking care of that down the road,” says Stoner. “So, when the power goes out, we just turn the lights on with our generators and keep things rolling. Not all cities have that.”
Although Blue Earth Light and Water is a separate entity from the city of Blue Earth, Stoner says, “We’re separate but not that separate. We’re partners. We work together on all the street projects. I talk to Kathy (city administrator Kathy Bailey) probably twice a day.”
For most utility companies, the rates are set and controlled by the city, but not at Blue Earth Light and Water.
“We’re charged with setting the rates according to the needs of the business,” says Stoner. “We have really only one primary goal and that’s to provide reasonable, reliable power and water.”
Over the past 10 years, the rates have only gone up once and that was recently. What’s more, the rates only increased by about 4 percent. Other cities may see an increase of that or more every year.
The next study to be done in order to decide the rates is scheduled for 2017.
“That’ll help us readjust, making sure we do proper planning,” Stoner states.
The rates that are set keep the business running the way it needs to, and they take into account the need for regular maintenance.
Though Blue Earth Light and?Water staff members do their best to keep up with maintenance of the machinery and building, there is always the possibility that someone needs to be at the plant to take care of an unexpected issue.
Aside from the everyday work that needs to be done, two workers are on call during the evenings and weekends in case something comes up.
Blue Earth Light and Water receives their electricity from two sources:?Xcel Energy and Alliant Energy. From there, the power is sent out across the city to keep the lights on and things running.