Amy Cunningham
[email protected]
As part of a long-term plan to move the city’s electric forward, Gardner Electric’s Director Bill Krawczyk has identified five main components that he believes will be critical to the organization’s success: rate stability, outage responsiveness, service reliability, public safety and succession planning.
Krawczyk told members of the Gardner Utility Board there is still work to be done on the plan.
“This is a skeleton and I need to put some meat on the bones,” he said.  “We’re talking about long-term strategy and how we’re going to accomplish this.”
According to Mark Baldwin, the newest member of the board, the plan will help the board identify where the utility is today and where they want to go in the future.  He wondered how the electric stacked up against other players in the same arena.
The director explained that the city has implemented several programs to keep the electric viable.  One area that he pointed to is the utility’s four-year program to trim back trees that are in close proximity to power lines.  Krawczyk said by cutting back those trees, in the event of an ice storm, Gardner would fare better than other cities without a similar program. He also told the board that, as far as rates were concerned, the utility is able to compete with larger utilities such as Kansas City Power and Light.
Krawczyk pointed out that Gardner Electric’s other competitive advantage is responding to outages. A report for 2010 shows an average of 24 minutes to respond to a reported power loss.
During the workday crews average a seven minute response, after hours crews usually arrive on the scene within 35 minutes.
“On rates were competitive, on responsiveness we blow them away,” Krawczyk told him.
Board members also vowed to work with the planning commission in establishing guidelines for landscaping that would be mutually beneficial to both groups. Currently the planning commission has landscaping requirements that don’t take into account the placement of overhead lines.
Krawczyk said that he has had preliminary discussions with community development concerning the placement of trees in easements. He pointed to two recent development projects where property owners were required to plant trees directly under feeder lines for the city’s power supply based on recommendations from the city.
Gardner Energy employees worked with a local nursery to identify trees that would be lower in height and pose a smaller risk to overhead lines, they plan to provide this information to community development.
They also plan to ask the commission to be cognizant of the placement of landscaping in relation to overhead lines.
“They require landscape and trees, they need to keep them outside of the easements,” said Brandon McCollum, distribution supervisor for Gardner Energy.  “The customer is paying to trim trees that shouldn’t be there in the first place.”
In other business:
• The director urged the board to consider developing several policies that would guide the operation of the utility moving forward.  Krawczyk asked for guidance in determining the correct amount of money to hold in the Operating Reserve Fund and the Capital Replacement Fund.  He also asked for a policy dictating the replacement of vehicles and equipment.  The board will also consider setting a timetable for line clearance -removing or trimming trees or objects that interfere with overhead power lines- and fleet lease agreements.
• The board was briefed on the progress of current projects by the distribution supervisor and the operations supervisor.
• This June the utility will undergo an audit by the North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC).  The organization measures compliance with NERC standards for all bulk power system owners and operators. Users are required to register and comply with approved NERC reliability standards with the end-goal of maintaining and improving the reliability of North America’s bulk power system.