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Utilities Commission receives update on underground conversion project

WILLMAR -- The Willmar Municipal Utilities had a good year in 2010 with the underground conversion project in which overhead power lines are buried.

Total underground miles are up by 2.78 miles and total overhead miles are down by 2.59 miles. Conversion projects were done in three southwest areas of town and in one southeast area last year.

Jeff Kimpling, the utility's electric services manager, said 2010 was "one of the biggest years as far as the area we got done and we hope to continue that for the next couple of years.''

Kimpling discussed the underground conversion project, along with last year's system outages, during the annual reliability standard report to the Municipal Utilities Commission on Monday.

The utility was authorized to begin burying overhead power lines in 1979. Neighborhood beautification is one benefit of burying the lines. The program reduces maintenance, tree trimming and exposure to damage and outages caused by squirrels, storms, lightning strikes and tree branches.

The conversion program mainly affects older residential areas. Newer areas are developed with buried lines. The number of miles has more than doubled during the past 31 years. On Jan. 1, 1980, the system had 83.35 miles, of which 28 percent were underground and 72 percent were overhead. On Jan. 1, 2011, the utility had 216.91 miles, of which 83.16 percent are underground and 16.84 percent are overhead.

Kimpling said the utility's goal is to complete conversion projects by the end of 2014. The utility will still have several sections of overhead single-phase lines remaining that feed "country lines'' and a few small commercial accounts inside the city limits. These lines will be buried as needed.

In other business, the commission was told by customer service supervisor Larry Heinen that the utility wrote off $12,568 in bad debt from 147 accounts for the second half of 2010. Heinen said accounts that have no activity for three months past the final date are written off.

He said collection efforts continue through agencies and placing unpaid bills as property tax liens. First-half write-offs were $10,135 for a total of $22,703. As a percent, write-offs accounted for 0.07 percent of $32.9 million in 2010 utility revenues. The percent was unchanged from 2009 and down from 0.12 percent in 2008.

David Little
David Little covers the Willmar City Council, Willmar Municipal Utilities and other city news.
(320) 235-1150