River Falls Municipal Utilities employees recently took home three awards from the WPPI Energy Annual Meeting Sept. 13.

More than 50 utility organizations were present at the meeting.

Utility Director Kevin Westhuis received the WPPI Energy Volunteer Power! Award for his work in developing a broadcasting platform for River Falls. Westhuis helped establish the platform on a free online streaming site so community members could broadcast events such as school sports and dance recitals. He also volunteers his time to call sports and train others to live stream and call games as well. Through his work, Westhuis has encouraged other volunteers to follow his lead in supporting the community.

Wayne Siverling, Electric Superintendent, received the WPPI Energy Shining Star Award. This award is given to those who show proven leadership and dedication to strategic initiatives within the utility. Siverling oversaw the construction of the $4 million power plant substation while simultaneously working diligently with his crew to expand services to the growing community.

"He's just such a hard worker, and so dedicated to our community," said Westhuis of Siverling. "(I) just want to make sure Wayne gets the kudos he deserves for the hard work he does behind the scenes to make sure we have reliable electricity in River Falls. He is definitely a shining star."

Mike Noreen, Conservation and Efficiency Coordinator, was awarded the WPPI Energy Individual Achievement Award for his significant contributions to the success of WPPI Energy. Noreen's involvement and expertise resulted in River Falls being nationally recognized for community-wide sustainability initiatives focusing on energy conservation and efficiency. More than 10 percent of River Falls Municipal Utilities customers now participate in the Renewable Energy Program.

"Mike is really behind that," Westhuis said of the program.

"I'm very proud of Mike Noreen and what he does for our community," Westhuis said.

Westhuis did not know he'd been nominated for the Energy Volunteer Power! Award until he received the call from WPPI a couple weeks before the meeting, telling him Noreen and Siverling, who Westhuis had nominated, had been chosen to receive awards. At the end of the call, Westhuis said, he was informed that he'd been nominated and chosen to receive an award as well.

"I was shocked," Westhuis siad.

"Kevin, Mike and Wayne are highly valued both within the River Falls community and within the utilities industry as well. Our membership is proud to see the awards committee recognizing them for their broad achievements," said Mike Peters, CEO of WPPI Energy.

Utility disaster preparedness

Meanwhile in North and South Carolina, other utilities are working hard to get things up and running in the wake of flooding and other damage caused by Hurricane Florence.

Often, Westhuis said, Wisconsin utilities will send assistance to national natural disasters such as Florence. In this case, Westhuis said, neither River Falls nor Wisconsin sent assistance, because their assistance was not needed. He said vehicles and equipment that could travel through marshland were needed, which River Falls and other Wisconsin utilities do not have.

But other agencies from around the country do.

Westhuis said it was unusual, and that River Falls has sent assistance to assist other utilities getting up and running after other natural disasters around the country.

River Falls is prepared should an emergency strike here.

Events River Falls prepares for could be tornadoes, natural gas explosions, straight line winds, chemical spills and similar events.

In the case of a disaster, Westhuis said, utilities call in crews and first assess the damage. Then, they send crews around town and get the main lines fixed up first, taking care of critical locations like hospitals, nursing homes and schools, water and wastewater systems.

After critical infrastructure is taken care of, the utility would look at distribution lines and get everybody's power back on as quickly as possible.

Westhuis said should River Falls be faced with a disaster, it wouldn't do all of that work alone.

River Falls belongs to MEUW, Municipal Electric Utilities of Wisconsin, the state association representing Wisconsin's locally-owned, locally-controlled electric utilities.

MEUW helps utilities plan for disaster relief.

"We do have a plan in place in River Falls, and the surrounding area, said Westhuis. Other MEUW utilities would assist River Falls in case of a disaster, and River Falls would do the same for other member utilities.