Abeln honored with Distinguished Service Award

April Abeln’s job is centered around doing what’s best for her community.

As deputy finance officer for Groton, South Dakota, she helps manage city operations and ensure reliable utility service to residents.

Serving in this capacity, it was an easy decision to find more ways to help others and give back. Her mantra is simple: if you’re working for the city, you might as well WORK for the city.

“When you live and work here, it makes sense to do extra,” she said. “It comes with the job, but it’s also my personality—I try to give one hundred percent.”

In recognition of her outstanding service, selfless attitude and commitment to her community, Abeln is the recipient of the Distinguished Service Award from Heartland Consumers Power District.

Community focused

Abeln’s adoration for Groton is something that has grown over the past two decades. She’s considered herself a member of the community since 2003 and has enjoyed raising her two sons here.

She dubs herself an “honorary member of anything.” Although not always formally affiliated with a project, she’s not afraid to step up when needed.

“If I’m asked and it works out, I’ll definitely help out where I can,” she said.

She plays a key role in organizing two of the community’s largest annual events: Summer Fest and Pumpkin Fest.

Summer Fest is spearheaded by the local Lions Club. Each year Abeln lines up vendors prior to the event and helps with setup and other tasks during.

Groton annual Pumpkin Fest graphic
Abeln heads up the planning for Groton’s annual Pumpkin Fest.

She is the main planner for Pumpkin Fest and heads up a team of volunteer “pumpkineers.” Now in its sixth year, the event has become a passion project for Abeln.

“It’s my baby,” she says, laughing. “Some people call me the pumpkin queen.”

Held at the city park, the one-day, family-friendly festival draws hundreds of people from the region. It features a lunch plus inflatables, hay rides, face painting, pumpkin decorating and more.

The event is free to the public—a source of pride for organizers. Abeln and her team line up dozens of sponsors to help with expenses. Guests may offer free will donations for the meal.

Money raised is typically used to help cover costs of future events. This year, however, the group plans to raise funds for new bathroom facilities at the park.

“Any time a public event is held there, we have to rent handicap-accessible facilities,” Abeln said. “We desperately need an update, and the entire community could benefit.”

When she’s not planning events, Abeln teaches Sunday School at St. John’s Lutheran Church and serves as secretary of Groton’s Chamber of Commerce.

City role

Abeln grew up in Mansfield, South Dakota, and attended grade school in Warner. She later studied accounting at Northern State University in Aberdeen.

Shortly before graduating she started working part time in the Groton finance office. In May of 2008 she joined the office full time as assistant finance officer.

She’s since moved into the deputy role, where she’s mainly responsible for payroll for thirteen full-time employees. But, she admits, she enjoys helping with other tasks. Her attention to detail and proficiency with numbers proves beneficial for many aspects of the finance office.

Although managing a city can be hectic at times, Abeln relishes her work.

“I don’t think there’s ever a dull moment. We are busy all year long,” she said.

She also appreciates the flexibility and convenience it offers to pursue community projects.

“I don’t think many jobs would let you be this community-oriented,” she said. “We can have meetings here at city hall or use the space to collect and sort items for city rummage and other projects. The mayor and council are very supportive. They understand these events are valuable to the community.”

April Abeln holding an award and standing with co-workers
April Abeln, second from right, was nominated for the award by her coworkers at the Groton finance office. Pictured from left to right, Heartland Customer Relations Manager Kelly Dybdahl, Groton Finance Officer Hope Block, Abeln, and Assistant Finance Officer Kellie Locke.

Distinguished service

Heartland provides wholesale power to municipal electric utilities throughout the region, including Groton. Each year one employee from a customer community is chosen for the Distinguished Service Award, to recognize the exceptional people working behind the power.

Abeln was nominated separately by co-workers Hope Block and Kellie Locke. Both commended her expertise and willingness to help.

Public Power Week 2021 Logo

“I can ask April any question about anything, and she knows it,” Locke said.

Block agrees, saying that if Abeln doesn’t know an answer, she will find it.

“She’s resourceful and will figure it out,” she said. “April’s also reliable, dependable and always eager to help. She’s the most wonderful person I’ve ever worked with.”

Abeln received her award in conjunction with Public Power Week. The annual event celebrates the distinct advantages public power utilities offer, including local control, community-focus, public input and dedicated employees. “People like April make public power exceptional,” said Heartland Chief Communications Officer Ann Hyland. “She tirelessly and selflessly serves her community in many ways, both on and off the clock. April is a shining example of the people behind public power: individuals committed to moving communities forward.”

Adams honored with Distinguished Service Award

Longtime Sioux Falls Electric Light employee recognized for dedication and vision

Adequate street lighting prevents accidents and promotes security. It increases safety and quality of life in communities.

Nobody knows this better than Terry Adams.

Adams designs or reviews every streetlight installation in the city of Sioux Falls. He has served as their engineering tech for 26 years. The job is meticulous, often complicated, and extremely important for public safety.

“People feel safer at night if their surroundings are well lit,” he said. “It’s my job to make sure our streetlights remain bright and constant after the sun goes down.”

In the past three decades, the number of streetlights in Sioux Falls has nearly tripled. The city credits Adams with developing and implementing the entire transition.

“When he started, we had around 7,300 lights. Now we have over 20,000,” said Sioux Falls Traffic, Light and Power Superintendent Jerry Jongeling. “We have not added a staff member for more than thirty years due to his work ethic. That says a lot about his character.”

For his outstanding service, Adams is Heartland’s Distinguished Service Award recipient.

Heartland Customer Relations Manager Kelly Dybdahl, far left, presents Terry Adams with his award. Joining him were Sioux Falls Light Superintendent Jerry Jongeling and Heartland Director of Economic Development Casey Crabtree.

Ensuring neighborhood safety

Streetlights are an essential aspect of modern life. They help alert drivers and pedestrians of oncoming traffic and possible hazards. They can also deter criminal activity and create safe, welcoming environments.

Street lighting increases quality of life by allowing activity after dark.

When citizens report streetlight outages, Adams handles resolving each issue.

“Terry answers every call and looks for the best way to solve their concerns,” Jongeling said. “He communicates well with citizens and oversees projects from start to finish.”

Adams meets with citizen groups after hours to discuss local lighting concerns. He also surveys neighborhoods with residents, community development employees and police officers.

Together they determine and check dark areas and brainstorm possible solutions. Adams uses this information to develop a project map.

“This map is our blueprint to lighting up neighborhoods and creating safer environments,” Jongeling said.

Reliable project leader

Adams’ work speaks for itself. He is thorough and an invaluable member of the team.

“Each project is well documented with no detail left out,” said Jongeling. “He’s always willing to educate anyone on a project or procedure and help in any way.”

Adams takes the lead on department projects, contracts and working with local developers.

“Terry gives 100% at his job every day. His performance and attitude are key to our operations,” Jongeling added.

Outside of work, Adams is a long-time, dedicated member of the Sioux Falls Shriners Club. He marches with the Shriners band in parades and works at the annual Sioux Falls Shrine Circus.

“He gives his time and heart to help kids in need. He is a public servant in the truest sense.”

Distinguished service

The Distinguished Service Award recognizes exceptional employees at Heartland customer utilities.

Adams received his award in conjunction with Public Power Week. The annual event celebrates the distinct advantages public power utilities offer.

“Public power employees are essential workers who care about their communities. Adams is a shining example,” said Heartland Chief Communications Officer Ann Hyland. “He goes the extra mile to ensure public safety. We are proud to recognize individuals like Adams who make public power exceptional.”

Not only does Adams go above and beyond in his job, he is an inspiration to others.

“He has been a mentor to me and countless others who work in our industry,” Jongeling said. “Sioux Falls is strong and progressive because of people like him.”

Jongeling nominated Adams for the award.

Madison Electric Department receives Distinguished Service Award

Utility recognized by Heartland for tireless efforts during recent flooding

Madison Utility Services Coordinator Tess Nelson was in Green Bay, Wisconsin for a work conference when she received a notification at 3:45 in the morning that some of her neighbors back home were being evacuated due to severe flooding.

After checking in with her family, she called Madison Electric Utility Foreman Jerry Seitz and informed him of the situation.

Seitz and the rest of the city’s electric department answered the call of duty at 4 a.m. and spent the next week and a half tirelessly working to inspect and repair the city’s electric system and restore power to portions of the city all while ensuring residents’ safety.
“I think our community is very lucky to have this crew,” Nelson said. “They went to work that morning, no questions asked, and didn’t consider stopping until our utility director sent them home to get rest late into the evening. They continued until everything was back to business as usual. They worked hard as a team and I really appreciate that.”

For their outstanding service and commitment both during the city’s recent flood and year-round, the Madison Electric Department has been named this year’s recipient of Heartland Consumers Power District’s Distinguished Service Award.

“Public power communities are known for their dedicated employees, and Madison is no exception,” said Heartland CEO Russell Olson. “They certainly went above and beyond in this situation and we are proud of all their efforts.”

Madison Electric Department employees gather with Heartland staff after receiving the Distinguished Service Award for their dedication and hard work during the recent flooding in Madison, as well as year round. Pictured from left to right, back row: Heartland Director of Power Supply Adam Graff; Chief Operations Officer Nate Jones; Madison Utility Director Brad Lawrence; Electric Foreman Jerry Seitz; Journeyman Lineman Jayson Limmer; Journeyman Lineman Bob Mathison; and Apprentice Lineman Skyler Sutten. Front row: Heartland Benefits Administrator Theresa Schaefer; Customer Relations Manager Kelly Dybdahl; Senior Accountant Sharla Fedeler; Madison GIS/Project Engineer Olivia Minnaert; Utility Services Coordinator Tess Nelson; Journeyman Lineman Roy Brown; and Heartland Chief Communications Officer Ann Hyland. Not pictured: Jeff Wray

Heavy rain leads to outages

Two nights of heavy rain totaling over 11 inches took its toll, leaving a large portion of the city severely flooded with water continuing to rise. While emergency personnel rescued stranded motorists and evacuated homes, the electric department fought their own battle.

“We lost the first circuit at 3:53 a.m.,” Seitz said. “This particular circuit powered much of the northwest corner of town as well as our water tower, which the city and county use for radio transmission. When that went down, they lost their communication system.”

About twenty minutes later, a second circuit blew that powered much of the southeast corner of town.

Pictured is one of the switch boxes that was damaged in the flood and led to a major power outage in Madison.

“Our city operates 14 electric circuits,” Seitz said. “The two we lost happen to be the biggest, powering extremely large areas. About half the town was without power.”

Safety first

Upon inspection, Seitz discovered the switching boxes controlling the circuits were under water. Nothing could be done to those boxes in that condition, so the crew had to improvise.

They decided to divide and conquer. Seitz and his team worked on restoring power to priority areas —Main Street, the water tower and Lewis Drug, which houses the town’s only pharmacy.

To do this, they had to drive to each switch box location to determine which boxes could accommodate the dead circuits. Seitz said his team drove through high levels of water or sometimes blocks or miles out of the way to get to the boxes.

“At one point there was a fire at St. John’s Church and we needed to de-energize the building and inspect the basement. The water level on the street was up to my bumper, but we had no choice. There was over four feet of water on their switch gear and the water temperature was extremely hot. It could have been a much worse situation,” he said.

Meanwhile, the other team of workers went door-to-door to check buildings and homes that needed to be re-energized.

“We were not going to restore power without personally checking the location first,” Seitz said. “Safety was our number one priority.”

Working together

Coincidentally, the city’s utility director Brad Lawrence and several other public works department employees were out of town during the early stages of the flooding.

“It was bad timing to have so many people gone, but everyone stepped up,” Nelson said.

Roxie Ebdrup, public works administrative coordinator, manned the office and became the point of contact between staff, crews, and citizens. She took hundreds of phone calls from residents, assuring them that crews were working to restore power as quickly and as safely as possible. Nelson helped the team from Wisconsin by coordinating efforts and keeping the public informed.

“I was sharing information and posting updates, maps and pictures of circuits or other damage on our social media as often as possible,” Nelson said.

Although she hated to be so far away from the action, her attendance at the conference in Green Bay actually worked in the city’s favor.

The city lost a third circuit that took out local manufacturer GEHL and the hospital. They needed a replacement switch to get those businesses back up and running, but the spare was already being used from the first outages.

It just so happened that their vendor was at the same conference, so Nelson was able to connect with him immediately. He was able track one down in Marshall, Minnesota so they could pick it up just a few days later.

“That is exactly what is great about this industry,” she said. “There is cooperation among utilities. We are always willing to help one another.”

Getting back to normal

It was at least ten days before everything was back to normal.

Seitz estimates his crew visited around 350 homes, talking to owners, inspecting equipment and ultimately pulling meters or restoring power.

“According to the 500-year flood map, there are roughly 325 electric meters in the flood zone,” Nelson said. “We found many homes beyond the zone flooded as well as homes that had no water in their basement, but also no power because of the blown circuits. It was a unique situation.”

Through it all, the city never fully lost power. The damage to the grid was limited to the three circuits that controlled different areas of town.

“We never intentionally shut off entire circuits,” said Seitz. “We only disconnected homes in the flooded region, one at a time, after first checking with the homeowners. We restored power as quickly as possible, only after it was deemed safe.”

Recognizing deserving employees

Heartland established the Distinguished Service Award to recognize exceptional employees at Heartland customer utilities.

“It’s pretty incredible what their crew accomplished in just a few days,” said Olson. “Their commitment to their town and emphasis on safety is certainly commendable. Everyone in the department stepped up and all are deserving of this award.”

Madison’s electric department consists of five linemen, an electric foreman, a utility director, utility services coordinator and GIS/project engineer. They provide public power to more than 3,300 customers and maintain 85 miles of overhead and underground line throughout the city.

Heartland provides wholesale power to the city of Madison along with 29 other municipal electric utilities in the region.

Falconer honored with Distinguished Service Award

Arlington finance officer recognized by colleagues

Ask Sue Falconer what a typical day is like at work and her answer is pretty straightforward.

“A zoo,” she says, followed by her signature laugh.

Arlington Finance Officer Sue Falconer, second from right, is the 2018 recipient of Heartland’s Distinguished Service Award. Presenting the award to Falconer are, from left to right, Heartland Customer Relations Manager Steve Moses, Communications Manager Ann Hyland and Director of Economic Development Casey Crabtree.

Finance officer for the city of Arlington for the past 23 years, she says every day is different.

“I can go to work with a list of items I think I can accomplish that day, but only get one or two things done because other things come up. The next day, it might calm down, but you just never know,” she said. “One thing is certain–I never have to look for anything to do.”

Despite the often hectic environment, Falconer’s presence in the city office is steadfast–something her colleagues appreciate and rely on.

“Sue creates a positive atmosphere in the workplace,” said Arlington Utility Superintendent Marshal Mix. “Also, she knows everything. When we aren’t sure about something, we ask Sue. It’s kind of our motto.”

In recognition of her outstanding service, Falconer was named this year’s recipient of Heartland’s Distinguished Service Award, which recognizes exceptional employees at Heartland’s customer utilities.

 

People have greatest impact

Falconer has been working in finance her entire adult life. After graduating from Arlington High School she worked for Citizens State Bank in Arlington, and remained there until joining the city finance office in 1995.

Longtime mayor “Doc” Redfish and Falconer have a great working relationship. Pictured, they accept a grant check from now Heartland CEO Russell Olson.

She says the transition wasn’t too difficult. She performed a variety of duties during her time at the bank so learning the new role didn’t take too long.

When asked about her favorite part of her job, she is quick to answer–“working with the public.”

“We have a lot of nice people in this community, and I love living and working here.”

She also credits a great working relationship with her peers and Arlington’s longtime mayor Amiel “Doc” Redfish in keeping spirits high.

“I’ve often said there probably aren’t too many finance officers who talk to their mayor the way I talk to mine. If I’ve got something to say, I’m not the least bit afraid to tell Doc, and neither is he with me. We’ve always gotten along and don’t worry too much about what is or isn’t said,” she said.

Open lines of communication have been the key to their success–that and Doc learning Sue’s terminology.

“We talk a lot about ‘thing-a-ma-jiggers’ and ‘what-cha-ma-call-its,'” she adds, laughing.

 

Technology transforms work

Falconer has been with the city of Arlington for 23 years.

Besides the people, Falconer appreciates how technology has made her job easier over the years.

“When I first started, the utilities were on the computer but you still figured everything by hand and then entered it into the system later,” she said. “The council was looking to modernize things when I got the job, and my first thought was, ‘thank goodness.'”

Falconer helped convert all of the city’s “giant books” of payroll, billing and general ledgers into digital systems, which simplified processes and made work more efficient.

Years later, the city continues making updates to improve services. They’re currently transitioning to an advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) system that enables two-way communication between utilities and customers through the electric meter.

“The guys don’t have to go out and read meters anymore. We can just pull the data from the meters and upload it.”

Arlington is also utilizing load management to better operate the electric utility and help keep rates down.

 

Committed to the community

Falconer’s ability to balance a busy schedule carries over into her personal life. A lifelong Arlington resident, her community involvement has included the Arlington Community Club (now the Chamber) and the local community theater group.

She’s also very active in the Badger Lutheran Church, currently serving as financial secretary and singing in the choir. She previously managed the youth Sunday School and music programs for 30 years.

And if there’s a home athletic event at Arlington High School, you’ll most likely see Falconer in the stands.

Most of her free time, however, is devoted to her children and four grandchildren, who all live less than an hour away.

Falconer truly enjoys her job and when asked if she has any immediate plans to retire, she says nothing is set in stone, but plans to be around a few more years.

Of course, Falconer’s peers at the city, who nominated her for the award, hope she’ll stick around much longer.

“Marshal told me they’ve already checked the front door and it’s wide enough for a wheelchair or walker!”

 

Exceptional public power service

Falconer received her award in conjunction with Public Power Week, an annual opportunity for public power utilities, like Arlington’s, to remind customers and stakeholders about the distinct advantages public power offers.

“Public power is community power,” said Heartland Communications Manager Ann Hyland. “Public power employees take pride in working for a locally owned, locally run utility and serving their friends and neighbors. Sue clearly embodies this mantra and is very deserving of this award.”

Heartland provides reliable power as well as energy services and community development programs to Arlington and other communities, state agencies and organizations in South Dakota, Kansas, Iowa and Minnesota.

“We’ve had the pleasure of working with Sue since her start at the city,” Hyland said. “She’s always worked diligently to keep the best interest of Arlington’s electric customers top priority and remains a valuable asset to the utility and community.”

Recognize outstanding public power employees

Call for nominees for Distinguished Service Award

Public power is known for dedicated, hard-working employees and it’s time they be recognized.

In honor of Public Power Week, Heartland is calling for nominees for the 2018 Distinguished Service Award.

Any employee of a municipal system served by Heartland involved in the electric utility is eligible, including but not limited to finance officers, line workers and electric superintendents.

Nominees should exhibit excellent performance in electric utility operations as well as outstanding contributions to the municipality, community and other organizations.

The winner will be recognized during Public Power Week October 7-13, and will receive a gift and plaque.

All entries must be received by September 14, 2018. Nominees from previous years will also be considered.

Submit a nomination

Buller honored with Distinguished Service Award

Parker Electric Superintendent recognized for knowledge, dedication

Back on June 24, 2003, Parker Electric Superintendent Robbi Buller received what he calls “a crash course in line work.”

Parker Electric Superintendent Robbi Buller, left, accepts the Distinguished Service Award from Heartland Communications Manager Ann Hyland.

A record number of tornadoes tore through South Dakota that day, one of which hit Parker, on what has since become known as Tornado Tuesday.

“Our saving grace is that it never actually touched the ground, but we still had extensive damage due to 150 mile-per-hour winds,” Buller said. “We lost 24 poles and had close to 70 homes with damaged services.”

Buller was just shy of celebrating his one-year anniversary working for the city of Parker when the tornado hit. With no formal training on storm restoration procedures, Buller stepped up to help the community.

Retired Finance Officer Jeanne Duchscher recalls how Buller worked tirelessly in the wake of the storm, working 24-hours straight to restore power.

“He was on the scene moments after the tornado hit,” she said. “At 11:00 at night, in the pouring rain, he was in a bucket replacing downed line. Robbi is always there to see that the city is back up and running as soon as possible.”

With help from neighboring communities and utilities, the entire city was back online within 36 hours.

Looking back, Buller says he was just doing his job. But his co-workers and friends say it speaks volumes about his exceptional work ethic and dedication to his community.

In recognition of his fifteen years of outstanding service, Buller was named this year’s recipient of Heartland Consumers Power District’s Distinguished Service Award.

Electrician by trade

Buller has 25 years of experience in the electrical industry.

“I’m an electrician by trade, and I joined Parker as an electrical contractor,” he said. “I’ve learned everything I know about line work through on-the-job training.”

Today, his knowledge of Parker’s electric system is second to none and he is more adept working with high voltage. In recent years, he helped with a cost of service study and took the lead when the city upgraded its distribution system.

“Robbi has been instrumental in advising the city council and overseeing a number of system upgrades,” said Parker Finance Officer Adam Jans. “His time and effort put towards projects is unmatched.”

Committed to his community

Buller grew up in Lennox, SD but his father is from Parker. Since moving to the community in 2002, he has been actively involved in church and helped out with his daughter’s school activities.

He’s taken on extracurricular activities on behalf of the city as well.

His expertise led him to a role on the South Dakota Electrical Council (SDEC) Board of Directors, of which he has been a member since 2014. SDEC aims to promote and improve the electrical industry in the state by fostering goodwill, cooperation and communication among utilities as well as advancing technical and product knowledge.

“Parker is lucky and proud to have Robbi represent us on the SDEC board,” Jans said. “He often goes above and beyond to contribute to the betterment of our city.”

Distinguished service

Heartland established the Distinguished Service Award to recognize exceptional employees at Heartland customer utilities. Buller’s peers at the city nominated him for the award.

“Over the years, Robbi has proved to be an outstanding employee and asset to the city. He leads by example and provides our customers with excellent service and support,” Jans said.

Buller received his award in conjunction with Public Power Week, an annual opportunity for public power utilities, like Parker’s, to remind customers and stakeholders about the distinct advantages public power offers.

“Public power is hometown power, which means employees care about their community and take pride in serving friends and neighbors,” said Heartland Communications Manager Ann Hyland. “What better way to mark the occasion than to recognize individuals like Robbi who make public power exceptional.”

Utilities and staff are focal point of Public Power Week

Public Power Week is fast approaching and Heartland is busy getting ready to tell the public power story during the annual celebration in October.

Our recent end-user customer survey reiterated what most of us already know – we need to do a better job promoting the value of public power and the advantages it offers. The majority of survey respondents didn’t realize they were served by a public power utility and we want to help improve awareness.

One way we plan to do that is by featuring customer utilities in local newspaper articles.

We have reached out to all our customers asking a few questions about your utility. If you haven’t already, please reply with as much information as you can by September 8th.

We will write the articles and submit them to the papers. Our goal is to show the residents of our customer communities how valuable their local utilities are and how lucky they are to be served by great public power folks like you!

We will also be promoting public power through advertisements in those same newspapers. They will feature pictures of local utility employees and elected officials. This will help put faces with the names behind public power.

Heartland will also once again be recognizing an outstanding employee from one of our customer utilities with the Distinguished Service Award.

If you know of someone at your utility who often goes above and beyond the call of duty, you can nominate him or her for the award. Nominees should exhibit excellent performance in electric utility operations as well as outstanding contributions to the municipality, community and other organizations.

Past winners include Gary Horton of Akron, Iowa and Mathias Phelps of Lake Crystal, Minnesota.

All entries must be received by September 15 and nominees from previous years will also be considered.

We look forward to celebrating Public Power Week, celebrated the first full week in October, to remind customers about the distinct advantages public power offers. To learn more about how you can celebrate and help spread the public power story, visit the Public Power Week page at publicpower.org.

 

Phelps honored with Distinguished Service Award

Lake Crystal Electric Utility Superintendent recognized by colleagues

Mathias Phelps is this year’s recipient of Heartland’s Distinguished Service Award, created to recognize exceptional employees at Heartland customer utilities. Phelps serves as electric utility superintendent for Lake Crystal Municipal Utilities and has been employed with the city four years. Phelps was nominated by City Administrator Taylor Gronau for his leadership, professionalism and dedication to both the utility and the community.

“Mathias is an outstanding professional and colleague,” said Gronau. “He is respected greatly by his co-workers, as well as the elected leaders and residents of Lake Crystal for his service to the utility and the numerous contributions and improvements he has made to the utility.”

Phelps has maintained efficient and effective operations of the utility as well as developed and manages the utility’s electric load management program. He also manages the utility’s electrical mapping efforts and has been instrumental in increasing the prevalence and importance of workplace safety. He also actively promotes a responsive customer service atmosphere.

Mathias Phelps, center, accepts the Distinguished Service Award from colleagues, friends and family. From left to right: Mathias' wife Jessica Phelps, Lake Crystal PUC Chair Ron Williams, Lake Crystal PUC Vice Chair Brad Nelson, Lake Crystal City Administrator Taylor Gronau,
Mathias Phelps, center, accepts the Distinguished Service Award from colleagues, friends and family in Lake Crystal, MN. From left to right: Mathias’ wife Jessica Phelps, Lake Crystal PUC Chair Ron Williams, PUC Vice Chair Brad Nelson, City Administrator Taylor Gronau, Water/Wastewater Maintenance Worker Jarret Imlay, Phelps, Lineman Matt Runge, MMUA Regional Safety Coordinator Chris Trembley, retired Lake Crystal City Administrator Bob Hauge, Lineman Justin Gifferson, and Heartland Customer Relations Manager Steve Moses.

Phelps is a journeyman lineman and before being employed with Lake Crystal Municipal Utilities, served as a lineman on a road crew. He and his wife Jessica have two children, ages two and five. In his spare time he enjoys hunting around Lake Crystal.

“Mathias has dedicated himself to the improvement and betterment of the Lake Crystal community,” added Gronau. “He cares greatly about the residents and is constantly looking to build partnerships with community stakeholders. He goes above and beyond his traditional role as electric superintendent and most importantly, is dedicated to his family and is a role model to the community.”

Heartland established the Distinguished Service Award in conjunction with Public Power Week, an annual opportunity for public power utilities to remind customers and stakeholders about the distinct advantages public power offers.

“What better way to mark the occasion than to recognize individuals who make public power exceptional,” said Heartland Communications Manager Ann Hyland. “This annual award showcases employees who often go above and beyond and have made outstanding contributions to their municipality, community and other organizations.”

Any employee of a municipal system served by Heartland involved in the electric utility was eligible to receive the award, including but not limited to finance officers, line workers and electric superintendents. Any city employee or city official can nominate someone for the award.

Heartland is also celebrating Public Power Week by submitting letters to each customer’s local newspaper about the benefits of public power. If your utility has a Public Power Week Celebration planned, email us photos and we’ll feature them in our Newsroom.

2015 Recap: Evolving to meet customer needs

Over the past several years, one might say the buzz word surrounding Heartland has been transition. From operations to leadership to customer programs–change has been a reoccurring theme. While 2015 was no exception, the transitions within Heartland echo a national and global energy landscape in flux due to increasing state and federal regulations, threats to security and rapidly changing market and usage trends. However, Heartland found over the past year that change comes with opportunity. As challenges present themselves, Heartland continues to grow, adapt and evolve in order to meet the needs of our customers and uphold our promise of exceptional customer service and reliable power supply.

SPP Integration

After years of preparation, functional control of the Integrated System (IS) was turned over to the Southwest Power Pool (SPP) on October 1. Joining a regional transmission organization proved to be the best possible scenario for the IS, ensuring efficient and reliable delivery of power by removing transmission barriers between buyers and sellers. SPP was found to be the most customer-friendly, least-cost option for IS owners Heartland, Western Area Power Administration’s Upper Great Plains Region and Basin Electric Power Cooperative.

The move was historic for Heartland, altering operations with a new and expanding workload. The most significant changes since beginning operation within SPP are how we operate our generation facilities and handle coordination with WAPA. Heartland also acquired additional duties on behalf of  customers who receive WAPA allocations within both the SPP and Midcontinent Independent System Operator (MISO) markets. Although we are not required to physically perform scheduling for WAPA, we are responsible for creating forecasts and producing load schedules to be used by WAPA for their daily scheduling.

In order to succeed in today’s rapidly evolving industry, flexible planning and dynamic response to demands will be key. The SPP market will provide greater flexibility for buying and selling power as well as increase price transparency and efficiency.

Cybersecurity

Buzz Hillestad, principal consultant and managing partner at Helix Security, discusses the importance of cybersecurity at Heartland's Summer Conference in July.
Buzz Hillestad, principal consultant and managing partner at Helix Security, discusses the importance of cybersecurity at Heartland’s Summer Conference in July.

The electric grid has served America well for more than 100 years, keeping our homes heated, our rooms lit and our computers running. It is a complex network of power plants, substations, transformers, wires, sensors and poles that carry electricity across miles of transmission lines to be distributed to homes, schools and offices. Information changes hands many times throughout the process of delivering electricity, and the smallest margin of error along the way provides an opportunity for a cyber attack.

Speaking at Heartland’s recent Winter Conference, WAPA CEO Mark Gabriel revealed that WAPA’s system has experienced hundreds of thousands of attacks annually from across the globe, including from within the United States. While the electric power sector and government partners continue to take steps to manage risks, utilities of all sizes must also be held accountable. Because everything is interconnected, the grid is only as strong as its weakest link.

With this in mind, Heartland partnered with Helix Security in 2015 to launch a new program to help customers protect their valuable data. Helix provides cybersecurity services in five phases, starting with the fundamentals and building towards a fully functioning security management package. Data protection such as this is vital for any utility, and with Heartland sharing in the cost, the program is very affordable and potentially one of the most important services we provide our customers.

Growing Customer Base

Garden City MainHeartland continues to pursue new opportunities to expand our customer base and strengthen our company. In 2015 we announced the addition of Auburn, Iowa, a community of approximately 320 people located in West Central Iowa. Situated within the Midcontinent Independent System Operator (MISO), Auburn has a peak demand of 600 kilowatts. Our contract with the city is for ten years, during which time Heartland will supply all of Auburn’s wholesale power supply needs beyond their federal WAPA allocation as well as act as the scheduling agent for that allocation.

Heartland began supplying power and electricity to Garden City, Kansas January 1. The Garden City commission approved a power supply contract with Heartland in June, agreeing to a supply of 15 megawatts for five years from Heartland resource Whelan Energy Center Unit 2 with the option to extend the contract for another five year term.

Situated within the SPP, Garden City’s electric department provides service to over 11,000 electric meters, maintains nine electric substations, 245 miles of overhead power line and 40 miles of underground power line throughout the city. This is Heartland’s first customer in Kansas, and Garden City’s proximity to WEC 2 as well as its location within SPP make it a perfect fit.

Customer Service and Advocacy

In 2015 we remained as dedicated as ever to our customers by finding new opportunities to provide assistance, additional funding, recognition and more.

  • Enhanced customer service programs: Heartland boosted both our energy efficiency and economic development programs with the addition of new opportunities for customers, including new energy efficiency rebates for lifetime warranty electric water heaters, residential LED light bulbs and commercial refrigeration, as well as new assistance programs for communities concerning Certified Ready Sites and spec buildings.
  • Riley Bullington, left, worked with Director of Economic Development Ryan Brown, right, on the customer research project in 2015.
    Riley Bullington, left, worked with Director of Economic Development Ryan Brown, right, on the customer economic development research project in 2015.

    Economic development research: Riley Bullington, a Dakota State University college student, spent several months interning at Heartland completing a research project aimed at helping our customers with business retention and recruitment ventures. Bullington collected demographic information and key economic development data for each of our customer communities to help Heartland determine where and how to invest resources in order to make the most impact. The information will also be used when meeting with prospective businesses, community developers and site selectors.

  • Distinguished Service Award: Heartland established the Distinguished Service Award in conjunction with Public Power Week, an annual opportunity for public power utilities to remind customers and stakeholders of the distinct advantages public power offers. It is designed to showcase public power utility employees in Heartland customer communities who are exceptional in service and who have made outstanding contributions to their municipality, community and other organizations. The inaugural recipient was Gary Horton, city administrator for the city of Akron, Iowa.
  • PURPA assistance: Because small renewable energy projects are growing more popular with homeowners and business owners, Heartland has taken steps to ensure our customer utilities are in compliance with the Public Utility Regulatory Policies Act of 1978 (PURPA). Our assistance included filing a motion with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to define both Heartland’s and our customer utilities’ roles regarding PURPA as well as assisting with the creation of policies should a qualifying renewable project arise in one of our customer communities.
  • Clean Power Plan: The Environmental Protection Agency published it’s final, controversial Clean Power Plan rule in the Federal Register October 23. That same day, a group of more than 20 states asked a federal court to strike it down, arguing the rule is “illegal and will have devastating impacts upon the states and their citizens.” Among the states challenging the rule were South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas and Wyoming.

Horton recognized for outstanding service in Akron

Gary Horton is the inaugural recipient of Heartland’s Distinguished Service Award, created to recognize exceptional employees at Heartland customer utilities. Horton serves as city administrator for Akron, Iowa and has been employed with the city for 31 years  in various roles. Horton was nominated by his co-workers for his work ethic, generosity and commitment to the community and its residents.

Gary Horton, center, accepts the Distinguished Service Award from Heartland officials and Akron city staff. From left to right: Heartland Customer Relations Manager Steve Moses, Akron TITLE TITLE NAME NAME, Clerk Melea Nielsen, Deputy Clerk Karen Wardrip and Heartland Communications Manager Ann Hyland.
Gary Horton, center, accepts the Distinguished Service Award from Heartland officials and Akron city staff. From left to right: Heartland Customer Relations Manager Steve Moses, Akron Office Assistant Kourtney Nicholson, Clerk Melea Nielsen, Deputy Clerk Karen Wardrip and Heartland Communications Manager Ann Hyland.

“Gary is very giving of his time to family and friends, but is also willing to help with community projects on his own time,” said Akron Deputy Clerk Karen Wardrip. “He always puts in well over his 40-hour work week for the city, and knows what is going on not only in the field but in the business and financial areas as well. Gary is not a ‘suit and tie’ city administrator–he always gets out there and gets his hands dirty. He has a good rapport with those he works with, and is always a positive influence.”

Wardrip said Horton played a critical role in helping establish a community-owned health club, including helping with construction and maintenance of the building and serving on the board. He was also instrumental in the installation of playground equipment at a community ball field, development of a fishing site, boat ramp and camping sites at the city park, and flood prevention projects. He is frequently found helping local homeowners with personal projects, such as roofing or cement work and has a near perfect attendance record at city council meetings.

“He not only gets the ball rolling for big projects, but follows them through to completion,” Wardrip said.

Horton is active at his church, serving on the council and capital fund campaign as well as an usher and greeter. He is the Akron city representative on the local landfill board and has served on Heartland’s Customer Connections Committee since its inception in 2011. Prior to his role as city administrator, he served as public works director from 2000-2014.

“My favorite aspect of working for the city has been the variety,” said Horton. “I often fill in for different positions and it makes the day go by so fast.”

Horton and his wife Theresa have two daughters, Kendra and Jessica, and will soon be grandparents. In his free time he enjoys hunting, fishing and spending time at the lake.

Heartland Distinguished ServiceHeartland established the Distinguished Service Award in conjunction with Public Power Week, an annual opportunity for public power utilities to remind customers and stakeholders about the distinct advantages public power offers.

“What better way to mark the occasion than to recognize individuals who make public power exceptional,” said Heartland Communications Manager Ann Hyland. “This annual award will showcase employees who often go above and beyond and have made outstanding contributions to their municipality, community and other organizations.”

Any employee of a municipal system served by Heartland involved in the electric utility was eligible to receive the award, including but not limited to finance officers, line workers and electric superintendents. Any city employee or city official can nominate someone for the award.

Heartland is also celebrating Public Power Week by submitting articles to each customer’s local paper about the benefits of public power. If your utility has a Public Power Week Celebration planned, email us photos and we’ll feature them in our Newsroom.