Friday, December 28, 2012

Flashback Friday: Women join workforce in WWI

World War I opened many nontraditional jobs for women. Between 1914 and 1917, more than 600 "Electric Company" employees entered the military. Most of their jobs were filled by women.

Across the U.S., about 1.6 million women joined the workforce between 1914 and 1918, filling positions in government, transportation, factories, post offices, businesses and agriculture. Many worked in munitions factories, which employed as many as 950,000 women.

While many women worked to provide for their families while their men were at war, others worked just to help the nation succeed in the war. Women also bought Liberty bonds, and observed days for conserving food, as well as abiding by numerous laws to aid the war effort.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Pipeline inspection project reaches milestone

We recently completed a major milestone in a natural gas pipeline inspection project, having inspected nearly 139 miles of high-pressure pipeline in the our most populated, urban service areas.

Mandated by the federal government in 2004, owners of natural gas pipelines are required to assess the integrity of their pipelines in areas where a rupture to the line could cause the most harm, endangering customer safety and disrupting system reliability. We met the mandate’s deadline – to complete and report on the assessments by Dec. 17, 2012.

The federal mandate was issued prior to the natural gas-related explosion in 2010 in San Bruno, Calif.

“While we have consistently performed leak surveys and other safety checks on our system, the work associated with this requirement is much more comprehensive as we dig up and physically look at the pipeline,” said Russ Ackerman, supervising engineer – gas operations. “Developing and executing a proactive plan to meet the requirement helps us identify potential problems and address them immediately.”

Use of “smart pig” technology greatly aided the inspection process. The pigs – large pieces of equipment that move along the inside of a pipeline at about 3 to 5 mph – check the physical condition of a pipeline for corrosion, debris and geometric shape. The smart pigs were used to inspect nearly 25 percent of our gas transmission mains as part of the integrity management program.

As a result of the comprehensive inspection project, various components in the natural gas pipeline system were replaced and improved. Throughout the multiyear process, customer service was not disrupted.

Employees deliver holiday spirit to local families in need

Employees from our Pewaukee Customer Care Center and Wholesale Energy and Fuels department brought the holiday spirit to families in need this season through the Adopt-a-Family programs of the Salvation Army of Waukesha and Journey House Center for Family Learning and Youth Athletics, respectively.

Our Pewaukee employees “adopted” a mother and her three children, while the Wholesale employees “adopted” two separate families, each with two adults and three children. Pewaukee employees have participated in the Salvation Army’s program for the past nine years, and Wholesale employees have participated in Journey House since 2008. Employees purchased gifts from the families’ lists, such as clothing and toys, or donated money for the purchase of gifts.

An excerpt from the profile of one of the families benefiting from this employee generosity highlights the need:

“I am Lucero’s teacher. She came to Journey House eight years ago when she was first married. Her husband was in a fatal car accident. I remember the funeral. She did not return to school until this year. She is married with three children. She will complete her GED in Spanish by June 2013. She is very smart and determined to make a good life for herself and children. She is in my English language class and is an excellent student.

“She recently found out that her son has autism, but this does not deter her from her goals.

“She also cleans an office every night for three hours @ $8 per hour.

In a separate activity, employees from our various locations in Pewaukee collected food to stock the shelves of the Food Pantry of Waukesha County. The team collected 10 large boxes and six large bags of food. In addition, a $260 donation was made that the food pantry used to purchase more items.

Journey House is a community-based opportunity oasis where men, women and children on Milwaukee’s diverse Near South Side can build vital academic, employment and life skills to reach their goals.

Salvation Army is an action-oriented Christian church and social service organization that was founded in London, England, in 1865. For the past 110 years, Salvation Army has demonstrated its ability to "meet human need at the point of need" through various programs in Waukesha.

Food Pantry of Waukesha County advocates to increase awareness of hunger in the community and promotes collaborative action to provide food to those in need.

Meter reader helps customer avoid carbon monoxide problem

Debbora Oldenberg, a meter reader at our Burlington Service Center, was on her rounds recently when she noticed a foul odor in the neighborhood. She tracked the odor to the furnace exhaust at a residence and reported it.

Mike Middlecamp, one of our distribution fitters, arrived a short time later and found that the furnace was producing more than 10,000 parts per million (ppm) of carbon monoxide.

The customer was not home, so the fitter turned off the gas meter and left a note for the customer.

Later in the day, another distribution fitter returned to the home to check on the situation and found a contractor installing a new furnace.

Oldenberg’s actions and concern, and the follow through by our fitters may well have saved this customer’s life if that amount of carbon monoxide had leaked into the house.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Restoration continues in aftermath of winter storm

A winter storm entered our service area early Thursday, Dec. 20, and moved in an easterly direction throughout the day and evening. We've had an opportunity to review all of the data  -- more than 100,000 of our customers were impacted by this severe snow storm. We've been able to restore more than 90 percent of the customers who were affected. Of the remaining 5,600 customers who are without power, the vast majority are in the West Bend, Menomonee Falls and Watertown areas. We expect virtually all of our customers outside of those hard-hit areas to be restored tonight.

We have seen more extensive damage in the West Bend, Menomonee Falls and Watertown areas -- more trees down, more wires down, more damaged equipment.

Given the extent of the damage, we expect our crews will be working through late Saturday to restore service.

Our first priority in any restoration is to remove hazards – primarily live wires. Ensuring customer and public safety is our first priority. Stay away – and keep pets away – from any line that’s on the ground or hanging within reach. Always assume any line is a power line and that it’s energized. Report a downed line or an outage to our hotline: 800-662-4797.

After the hazards are addressed, we immediately address outages involving large numbers of customers, bringing big groups of customers back on line at the same time. Then we address smaller, more isolated and single outages. These take the longest to repair as we are literally going from one address to the next to determine the problem and fix it. In many cases we find considerable tree damage that has to be removed before we can get at the lines to make repairs.

We’ve put all of our resources into this winter storm restoration effort. Many troubleshooters and line men and women have worked double shifts in the rain, snow and wind to restore power. After they get 8 hours of rest, they come back to work. When our crews finish in one area, we move them to where they are most needed, regardless of their home base.

During the restoration of Dec. 20 and 21, our trucks have had a difficult time navigating some of the roads in Waukesha, Washington and Dodge counties that were covered with heavy snow drifts.

Customers in the affected areas should check with their local emergency government for assistance, including warm shelter, if they do not have other resources.

Safety tips   Customers are reminded to use generators safely. Keep them outdoors and at least 20 feet away from any open doors, including garage doors. Do not use grills or other charcoal cooking devices indoors, and never use a gas oven in an attempt to heat a home. Keep refrigerator and freezer doors closed to protect food. Check for tips on food safety when power is out. Keep electric and gas meters free of snow and ice and keep furnace exhaust outlets clear.

Flashback Friday: 1927 Christmas parade

Schuster’s Department Store sponsored Milwaukee’s annual Christmas Parade on the streets of downtown Milwaukee using flatcars on the Milwaukee Electric Railway and Light Co. (TMER&L) rail lines at the start of the parade route.

The seven-mile parade became a Milwaukee tradition. Santa Claus and his six reindeer were the main attractions. More than 300,000 gathered to see the parade every year. Schuster's created a character known as Billie the Brownie to promote the event.

The photo at right was taken in 1927. TMER&L was one of our predecessor companies, which  later changed its name to Wisconsin Electric Power Co. -- now doing business as We Energies.

Related information:

The Milwaukee Electric Railway & Transit Historical Society has a history of TMER&L on its website.

In 2009, the Museum of Wisconsin Art in West Bend  hosted the Worlds of Wonder: Armin O. Hansen's Festive Float Designs exhibit. For 31 years, Hansen was the designer of the parade's floats. You can learn more about the parade and its floats in this 10-minute WUWM podcast produced to promote the exhibit:

In 2011, published a Michael Lisicky interview. Lisicky is author of a book about Milwaukee's Downtown shopping culture, "Gimbels Has It!"

In 2012, published a Paul Geenen interview about "Schuster's & Gimbels: Milwaukee's Beloved Department Stores,"a paperback covering the merger of the two companies.

In 2012, Dave Begel of published a column about Billie the Brownie.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Keep natural gas meters, vents clear of snow, ice

Whenever we get much snow, we warn about keeping your furnace vents and natural gas meters clear of snow and ice.

A couple of years ago, one of our employees noticed the smell of natural gas in his house. So, he went outside to take a look. His gas meter was clear, but his furnace vent was completely covered within a four-foot drift against the back of his house. He dug it out and cleared the pipe and then checked on it throughout the day because of continued drifting.

Here's a picture of the back of an employee's house after snow was cleared from furnace vents.

Keeping furnace intake and exhaust vents clear of snow and ice is an important safety precaution to prevent build up of carbon monoxide inside homes and buildings. A blocked vent also can affect the performance of the furnace, which may not run properly or at all when the intake or exhaust vent is blocked.

As for natural gas meters, you may not think about that often, but we always remind customers to keep their meter clear of snow and ice for safety. Accumulated snow and ice place stress on meter piping that can damage equipment and cause a gas leak. Keeping the meter clear also allows our employees to properly service the meter in case of emergency and keeps it visible to snowplows when those meters are in close proximity to alleys or other areas subject to plowing.

To avoid meter problems:
  • Keep meters clear of snow and ice; make sure snow isn't covering meter. 
  • Always shovel away from meter. 
  • Take care when using snow thrower or plow near meter. 
  • Use a broom to clear snow and ice from equipment. 
  • Avoid kicking or hitting meter to break away built-up snow or ice. 
  • Remove icicles that may drip water onto meter. 

Stay safe this winter.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Flashback Friday: TV promoted electrical living in 1950s

At right, Mary Modern demonstrated recipes using 
electric appliances.
One of our predecessor companies,Wisconsin Electric Power Co., was a sponsor of nationally televised programs. One was Electrical Living, a 5-minute program that aired weeknights. The show featured Mary Modern, portrayed by Dorothy Gresbach, who demonstrated recipes using electric appliances. Gresbach, an employee in the home service division of the local electric company, was assisted by another home service employee, Alice Christenson. The show was televised from WXIX-TV in Cincinnati, Ohio. 

Governor honors utility workers

Gov. Scott Walker hosted a ceremony today honoring utility workers, many of whom recently took on extra responsibilities or traveled to the East Coast to assist with Hurricane Sandy relief efforts.

We dedicated more than 100 personnel resources to help restore electric service in New York in the storm's aftermath. Our crews were nicknamed ‘The Machine’ by Consolidated Edison (ConEd) work dispatchers, due to their efficiency and strong work ethic.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie also thanked Wisconsin utility crews via video for assisting in the recovery effort.

Our Customer Operations employees who attended the event, included John Pilling, area manager; Joe Krzyzaniak, operations manager; Scott Johnson, lead line mechanic, and Jerimiah “JJ” Blosmore, line mechanic. Bert Garvin, senior vice president external affairs also attended the event.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Employees’ quick action averts potential serious harm to customer

Because Tom Jendusa, a field collector in our customer services department, was in the right place at the right time on Dec. 4, a customer’s life likely was spared.

Jendusa and Fails
Jendusa was revisiting homes in a Milwaukee residential neighborhood that had been disconnected prior to the start of the winter shut off moratorium to ensure there were no safety issues. As he approached one dwelling, he heard the unmistakable sound of a running generator – inside the house.

He spoke to the occupant about the hazards of running a generator inside a building, but the man balked, noting there was ventilation and that he felt fine. Jendusa knew the customer was in danger, so he called Paula Fails, his team leader, and reported what he had found. Fails and Jendusa quickly agreed that the Milwaukee Fire Department should be contacted. Jendusa did so. The MFD reported the incident to the Milwaukee Police Department and within minutes, officers responded.

The police officers were inside the house for about 5 minutes, trying to convince the man – a relative of the homeowner – to evacuate. While they were inside, the officers began feeling the carbon monoxide effects. The officers successfully removed the man from the building and then were treated at a local hospital for CO poisoning, which can be deadly. The man was taken to a health and human services agency.

The Department of Neighborhood Services in Milwaukee boarded up the unoccupied property to prevent further access.

Carbon monoxide safety information

Flashback Friday: Energy crisis of early '70s

The energy crisis of 1973-74 – brought about by the Arab oil embargo – sent a shock wave through the American economy.

The embargo led to short-term gasoline rationing, caused petroleum prices to quadruple and increased demand for other fuels. Coal prices tripled, increasing the financial pressures on our company. Our natural gas business faced a double whammy: soaring prices and diminishing supplies. 

We continued to expand natural gas service to residential customers but had to impose a moratorium on new service to industries and other large customers. In 1975, we made the wise use of energy and conservation of energy resources a top priority to help customers.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

PSCW approves Montfort wind farm purchase

Our proposed purchase of the Montfort Wind Energy Center in Iowa County, in southwestern Wisconsin, was approved in a 2-1 vote by the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin (PSCW) today.

We had signed an agreement in August with NextEra Energy Resources Inc. of Florida to purchase the 30-megawatt wind farm for $27 million. We will retain NextEra to operate the site under an operations and maintenance agreement.

We previously had a power purchase agreement for 85 percent of the energy from the site. The remaining 15 percent was under a power purchase agreement with Wisconsin Power and Light Co., a subsidiary of Alliant Energy. The agreement extends through 2021.