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PUC reduces energy awareness panel

NEW ULM — The New Ulm Public Utilities Commission agreed to reduce the Energy Awareness Commission (EAC) members from nine to five.

Over the last few years, the EAC has struggled to meet quorum requirements to hold meetings. Since July 2019, the EAC has canceled seven meetings due to a lack of quorum. This is a significant amount of cancellations considering the commission only meets every other month. The odds of future canceled meetings is high since only five members remain on the commission with nine eligible commission spots. This means if a single member fails to attend, the commission will not have enough members to conduct business.

Energy Services Representative Derke Nelson presented the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) with three options going forward. The first was to reduce the commission to five members. This would mean the EAC could still conduct business with three members present.

The other options included finding people to fill the vacant seats or eliminate the commission.

The EAC serves as an advisory capacity to the mayor, City Council, Public Utilities Commission, and city staff. The purpose and function of this commission are to assist in implementing mandatory and voluntary programs to save energy and money; develop local solutions to local energy problems; develop new ideas and identify concerns for action by the Minnesota Department of Public Service; disseminate and encourage the utilization of information regarding conservation and alternative sources of energy by the residential and commercial community and establish an energy policy for the city.

Nelson said some of the conservation efforts conducted by the EAC are required but could be conducted in-house by city departments; however, the loss of this commission would reduce community involvement.

Nelson and the PUC commissioners favored reducing the members to five. Nelson said the remaining commissioners wanted to continue on the EAC.

PUC Commissioner Seth Visser said reducing the commission to five members was the logical next step.

Nelson also suggested the PUC provide the EAC with additional guidance on goals for the commission.

Utilities Director Kris Manderfeld said the mission statement for EAC has not been recently updated. The PUC could give further direction if the commission is to continue.

Commissioner Sean Fingland suggested holding a work session to discuss goals for the EAC.

Visser made the motion to reduce the EAC members to five with a second from Fingland. The motion was unanimously approved.

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The commission approved the public utility’s net energy billing service rates for 2021. The PUC approves this rate change annually. State statute requires municipal utilities to provide a net energy rate to promote renewable energy installations. In New Ulm, this rate is to compensate customers that have installed a solar installation and are connected to the New Ulm Public Utilities distribution system. If one of these systems generates energy beyond the need, the users receive compensation for the energy supplied.

This year the residential compensation rate and large commercial compensation rate increased slightly, and the small commercial compensation rate decreased slightly.

The change in rate is as follows:

• Residential rate – change from $0.1234 per kWh to $0.1272 per kWh

• Small commercial rate – change from $0.1206 per kWh to $0.1189 per kWh

• Large cCommercial rate – change from $0.0828 per kWh to $0.0928 per kWh

New Ulm currently has 13 facilities that qualify for this compensation, divided between six residential and seven small commercial customers.

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There will be no rate increase for electric, water, gas, district energy and wastewater funds in 2021. Based on the 2021 annual budget for the utility, no rate increase is needed for this year. The last rate increase for the electric fund was April 2012. District energy’s industrial rate had a small increase in February 2018. Manderfeld said a cost of service study is being completed for the water and wastewater rates and could lead to an increase, but this would not be until 2022.

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The commission authorized a payment to the Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities (CGMC) for $1,705.50 to the Environmental Action Fund.

This is an annual payment to CGMC. City Manager Chris Dalton said this payment is used by CGMC to fund data collection to focus on Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulations. The data ensures regulations are science-based and not arbitrary. The total cost for the city to be part of the CGMC Environmental Action Fund is $3,411. The cost is split between the PUC and the City of New Ulm.

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A proposal from Trane U.S., dba Trane, of St. Paul, was accepted for the public utilities administration building heat exchanger controls upgrade.

The cost of this project $13,020. This project will replace the obsolete building controls that are having reliability issues.

Utility Engineer Dan Pirsig said the wiring has become brittle and the control system will continue to have problems if not replaced. The new system would be the basis for further building automation.

The commission accepted the proposal from Power System Engineering, Inc., to develop plans and specifications, and to acquire and oversee the replacement of, the transformer and bus differential electromechanical relays in the North Side Substation for $95,200.

This project is to replace the obsolete electromechanical relays and line breaker in the North Side Substation. The relays will be replaced with Schweitzer Engineering Laboratories (SEL) relays which allow for greater data collection and easier maintenance.

Pirsig said In the future, the supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) system will tie directly into the SEL relay for instantaneous data collection.

The existing electromechanical relays have limited technicians with the skills to maintain and work on this old technology. Both existing relays failed the required five-year tests.

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A $56,758 quote from Boss Supply of Janesville, Inc., for a Nuhn 7,000-gallon Magnum spreader was accepted.

Wastewater staff is in the process of upgrading the biosolids equipment that was purchased in 2010. Wastewater has budgeted $200,000 to replace its biosolids tractor and spreader. The PUC is still waiting on quotes to replace the tractor.

The trade-in value of our current 2010 Nuhn 6,500-gallon unit is $47,000. After trade-in, the final purchase price of a 2021 Nuhn 7,000-gallon spreader is $56,758.

Staff was informed that the cost of steel is expected to increase. If acceptance of the bid was delayed, the cost of the equipment was expected to increase by $5,000.

Manderfeld anticipated the cost of the tractor would come within the $200,000 budget amount for two pieces of equipment.

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The Tom Bovitz Memorial Scholarship was approved for $500.

Each year, Minnesota Municipal Utilities Association (MMUA) offers the Tom Bovitz Memorial Scholarship Award program to high school seniors. Any high school senior who resides in an area where their electrical and/or gas utility supplier is a member of MMUA may participate by submitting an essay interpreting one or more aspects of the theme “Municipal Utilities: Good for All of Us.”

MMUA scholarship prizes total $5,000, which is split into $2,000, $1,500, $1,000, and $500. For many years, New Ulm Public Utilities (NUPU) has offered a $500 scholarship to the local winning entry. The local winning entry is then sent to MMUA for the possibility of one of the four additional scholarships offered by MMUA.

Information regarding the Tom Bovitz Memorial Scholarship program and its criteria may be obtained by contacting New Ulm Public Utilities or by visiting https://www.mmua.org/services/tom-bovitz-memorial-scholarship-program.

Information will also be supplied to high school guidance counselors at Cathedral High School, Minnesota Valley Lutheran High School, and New Ulm High School.

The deadline for local entries to NUPU is April 5. Local entries may be delivered to NUPU, 310 1st N. St., New Ulm, MN 56073, or emailed to DerekN@newulmmn.gov.

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