The following articles appeared weekly in the Times-Villager for the duration of several months leading up to the Kaukauna Utilities 100 year anniversary celebration on April 12, 2012.
In 1913 new electric current meters were being installed in residences and businesses. These current meters allowed the customer to be billed by the kilowatt instead of a flat monthly rate. Installation of water meters also began later in 1913. The utility began taking power from a new hydro electric power plant capable of providing enough power for Kaukauna with room to grow. This power plant opening marked a new era of industrial advancement for the City of Kaukauna. That plant known as Old Badger is still in service today but only provides enough power for 1,000 homes.
In 1914 the Kaukauna Sun published the new rules and regulations governing water service in Kaukauna. These rules and regulations set up basic fundamentals on how water accounts were established and are still in effect. The smallest meter size available in 1914 was 5/8” and that is still true today. Kaukauna Utilities still bills water usage in cubic feet as was done in 1914.
While Kaukauna was working on providing electric and water services to the community, the one millionth Ford automobile rolled off the assembly line in 1915.
Did you know the City of Kaukauna Electric Department used to sell electric stoves back in 1916? The stoves were priced from $30 to $225. World War I was going on in Europe at this time which made the raw materials needed for these stoves very hard to come by. The electric department discontinued selling stoves in 1944.
Do you remember when the Lawe Street draw bridge used to go up and down to let boats through? In 1919 an electric motor was installed so the bridge tender wouldn’t have to crank it open by hand.
In the 1920’s Kaukauna Electric and Water was building lines to adjacent neighborhoods in order for farmers to have electricity in their homes and farms. The growth of the electric and water department helped put Kaukauna on the map and keep our claim to fame as the Electric City. In 1913 the department had 550 customers and had grown to 2276 customers in 1923. Today KU has 14,500 active electric customers and 6,330 water customers.
In 1924 the superintendent of the electric and water department became an agent for the DeForest Radio Telephone & Telegraph Co. of Jersey City, NJ which brought radio to Kaukauna.
In 1928 the Kaukauna Electric and Water Departments made state history by being the first to ask for a combination rate for electricity to include the heating of homes by electrical power. This request captured the interest of many people throughout the United States. According to the Kaukauna Times, William Paschen, proprietor of Paschen’s Restaurant on Second Street, was the first electric consumer in the State to take advantage of the new combination rate.
The sudden death of Jay O. Posson, head of the Kaukauna Electric and Water Departments, also occurred in 1928. Herbert F. Weckwerth was named superintendent of the Kaukauna Electric and Water Departments
The early 1930’s had many improvements, not only for the Kaukauna Electric and Water Departments, but the whole City of Kaukauna. Riverview Sanatorium had the distinction of having the largest installation of all-electric cooking equipment in the State of Wisconsin. A new water tower was built on Catherine Street which had a capacity of 250,000 gallons and could be seen as far away as 15 miles. In keeping true to our nickname of the “Electric City”, 194 new lights were added to the city’s ornamental lighting system. On December 22, 1934 the city went dark and at 7:30 p.m. Mayor Niesen turned on all the new street lights and a parade was held.
In 1935 the City decided to purchase two neon signs with six foot letters that read “Kaukauna” to mount on each side of the new Catherine Street water tower. This would be a great way to advertise our city. When the water tower was torn down the City decided to purchase new letters and put them on the dam under the Lawe Street Bridge.
The Outagamie Mill was sold to the utility in 1937. This sale gave the utility rights to 32% of all water power above the Kaukauna dam. This was significant at the time because these were the only water rights on the Fox River not controlled by the Green Bay & Mississippi Canal Company.
H.F. Weckwerth, general manager of the electric & water department had a dream of eliminating wasted power in Kaukauna. In 1940, after two years of construction, the Kaukauna City Plant Hydroelectric facility started operating and thus captured 100% of the available water power. This project was one of the largest of its kind and consisted of building a dam that was 2,515 feet and employed over 100 men. 60,000 cubic yards of solid rock was removed and then crushed into three sizes of stone to be reused in the construction work. 7,600 cubic yards of concrete and 3,200 cubic yards of sand were also used on this project along with excavation of 15,000 yards of dirt.
Remember when the electric and water department had a window display? Through the years this window displayed many different things from appliances to dahlias. One of the most memorable displays was in 1943. The American Legion Post 41 and the Legion Auxiliary decorated the window with souvenirs from four wars; the Spanish-American War, the Civil War, World War I and the conflict that was occurring at the time, World War II. Also that year, the director of the Office of War Utilities asked all American people to keep Christmas lighting decorations inside. There was a national conservation campaign to save fuel, light bulbs, transportation and other materials during wartime.
In 1953 the first automated traffic signal lights were erected at the intersection of Lawe Street and Wisconsin Avenue at the top of the bridge. This was a symbol that represented how Kaukauna had grown. This growth could not have happened without the vision of a few and the cooperation of many to get the job done. As we look back over the past 100 years of Kaukauna Utilities’ history, we are grateful for all customers past and present. We are also very thankful for all the dedicated employees who have helped Kaukauna Utilities grow from small beginnings to 100 years of success.
During the late 1950’s, there was an increase in demand for electric energy due to extensive new home construction, more electric appliances being used and business and industry expansion.
New mercury vapor lighting was approved to replace the ornamental street lights in the business district. These new lights shed about four times more light per lamp than the old lights.
H. F. Weckwerth, General Manager of the utilities for over 30 years, passed away unexpectedly in 1957. William Ranquette was named the new General Manager.
The State Board of Health gave permission to construct a new well at the intersection of Blackwell and Delanglade Streets. This new well is 600 feet deep and yields 500 gallons of water per minute.
The early 1960’s found our country in the middle of the Cuban missile crisis. Even though Cuba is a long way from Kaukauna, it still had an effect on our procedures here. First the utility purchased a mobile diesel-electric generator. This generator was to be used in the event of an attack or if power was lost due to storms. This unit is believed to be the first one put into service in the state. Then Thilmany and Kaukauna Electric & Water signed a shelter agreement permitting use of certain areas for fallout protection in case of a nuclear attack. These areas provided space for nearly 60% of the population of Kaukauna. Thankfully this crisis was averted and peace was restored.
Since the city was still growing, Kaukauna Electric & Water also had to grow in order to keep up with the increasing demands from our customers. The late 1960’s saw the utility build a new substation in Combined Locks on Jansen Street, a new water tower in Kaukauna on Ann Street, and a new pumping station on Schultheis Street. Also during this time, a new looping electrical distribution system was installed through Kaukauna, Combined Locks, and Little Chute. This loop system consisted of two new lines; one for 34,500 volts and one for 12,470 volts and were installed between the Badger Hydro Plants and major substations. The new loop system allowed the utility to feed power in both directions in order to isolate problems and switch loads to accommodate the demand for energy.
An interconnection line was put in between Kaukauna and Menasha in order to exchange power between the two utilities in the event of an emergency. This type of exchange was the first to have happened between municipal utilities. This exchange was so unique that both utilities received the E.F. Scattergood System Achievement Award that recognizes achievements by municipal utilities which enhance the prestige of public power and improve service to consumers.
In 1971 sliding ground on the north bank of the Fox River was causing problems with power poles. KU was also experiencing problems with power lines that were exposed to all kinds of weather. It was decided to remove these power poles and relocate the lines underground.
Kaukauna Electric & Water purchased electric power on a monthly basis from Wisconsin-Michigan Power Company, a private utility, in order to meet the demands of KE&W customers. A request for a rate hike by Wisconsin-Michigan in 1976 was thought to be excessive so Kaukauna Electric & Water opposed this rate hike. In an effort to reduce electric power costs in Wisconsin, some municipally-owned utilities joined together to form Wisconsin Public Power Incorporated (WPPI) in 1976. Ernest Mullen, General Manager of Kaukauna Electric & Water at the time, was elected president of WPPI and served on the Board of Directors. WPPI, now known as WPPI Energy is still going strong today with 51 customer-owned members in Wisconsin, Upper Michigan, and Iowa. Jeff Feldt, current General Manager of Kaukauna Utilities, serves as the Chairman of the WPPI Energy Board of Directors.
Kaukauna Electric & Water has always been a forward thinker. Our history shows that our goal has always been to provide low cost, reliable service to our customers. In the early 1980’s, a deal was negotiated with Appleton Papers and Kaukauna Electric & Water. This deal was to swap the water rights at the Combined Locks mill that Appleton Papers owned with the land their mill was located on that Kaukauna Electric & Water owned. This land amounted to about 40 acres and the water rights would allow us to generate an additional 40 million kilowatt hours of electricity annually. After review by the Utility Commission and Common Council, it was determined that this deal would be beneficial to both parties and was so approved.
Kaukauna Utilities has been a member of WPPI Energy (WPPI) since the beginning in 1980. This membership has proven to be beneficial throughout Kaukauna Utilities’ recent history. One instance occurred in the late 1980’s when there was a downturn in iron ore mining in Minnesota. Minnesota Power & Light agreed to sell their excess to WPPI who then sold power to Kaukauna Electric & Water during peak demand times at a reduced cost.
Also during this time a new electric power conservation program was put into place. This program started as a way to give customers a rebate for purchasing energy-efficient appliances. This program is still in place today and has been expanded to include water saving toilets and faucets. Other newer rebates include programmable thermostats and trees. Visit the KU website at www.ku-wi.org to learn more about conservation/incentive programs.
Wisconsin experienced an energy crisis in the late 1990’s that brought a threat of rolling blackouts and possible system failure. At the time, nuclear reactors at Point Beach and Kewaunee were shut down for maintenance and repairs. All the reactors were expected to be powered up by June. If there was a delay in starting these reactors back up or if the weather turned hot and humid, Wisconsin could be very vulnerable to power outages. Emergency plans were put in place for big companies to reduce their energy use along with educating customers about what to do to conserve energy. Wisconsin made it through this crisis, but future summers could be just as bad if changes weren’t made. WPPI management stated we need to look forward and build new generation plants and transmission facilities.
Do you remember the wind storm in 1998 that led to the demise of the Catherine Street water tower? That wind storm wasn’t as bad as the tornado of 2011, but it did loosen the roof of the water tower causing it to flap in the wind. The roof was unstable and city officials worried it would not stay on, homes were evacuated around the area as a precaution and traffic was re-routed down Wisconsin Avenue. This tower held 250,000 gallons of water. If it collapsed, the surrounding area would be flooded. KE&W workers opened a fire hydrant to drain the water down at a rate of 1,000 gallons per minute. After looking at the cost of repairs, it was determined the water tower had to come down. The Catherine Street water tower had been in service since 1934 and had “Kaukauna” illuminated in red neon on both sides.
It was hard to lose the Catherine Street water tower, but everyone involved wanted to save the neon lights that spelled out “KAUKAUNA”. These lights were six feet high and could be seen for miles, but unfortunately were not salvageable due to age. It was decided that new 42-inch letters outlined in neon would be purchased and put in place on the catwalk that runs the length of the Kaukauna dam.
In 2000, CalEnergy Generation announced plans to build a power plant in the Town of Kaukauna. Officials of Kaukauna Electric & Water were very supportive of this plant stating this new plant would increase power reliability in the area. They also felt this plant would prevent the need to import power from sources outside the state. Currently this plant is in full operation providing energy on a daily basis as needed.
As evidence that Kaukauna was growing, it was decided in 2002 that new homes would not be connected with 60-amp services. The average new home contained a microwave, air conditioning, stove, washer/dryer, freezer, computer, printer, multiple televisions, cordless phones and other items that made it impossible for 60-amp service to provide adequate power safely. That same year Jeff Feldt was hired as the new General Manager for Kaukauna Utilities and continues in that capacity today. One of the goals he set was to reduce outage time to no more than one hour. Another important milestone at this time was the feasibility study for replacement of the Old and New Badger Hydro Plants. After 10 years of planning, construction work is scheduled to begin in the spring of 2012 on the Badger Hydro Project.
2004 was a year in which Kaukauna Utilities tried to keep the old while bringing in new ideas to keep up with the times. One instance of keeping the old involved the limestone arches on the retaining wall located by the KU main office. The retaining wall was starting to bulge due to the water pressure that was undermining the fill of the parking lot. The cost to recreate these arches was extremely high so it was decided to construct a new concrete retaining wall and use forms to stamp the arches into it. The ending result is not only beautiful, but strong and will last for years to come. Another new idea was the fiber optic network cabling project. This project included extending fiber to connect hydro plants at Little Chute, Combined Locks, and Kaukauna City Plant as well as the Combined Locks, Kaukauna North, Rosehill and OO (pronounced Double-O) substations with the system.
Being aware of our environment has always been a part of how things are done at Kaukauna Utilities. Starting in 2005 when a transformer needed to be replaced, it was replaced with one that contained soybean-based oil instead of petroleum-based oil. If a transformer leaked, the soybean-based oil would break down completely in three months. If a transformer filled with petroleum-based oil would leak, it would require the contaminated dirt to be removed and the whole site cleaned up like an oil spill. The new oil is more flame resistant and can operate at higher temperatures which makes insurance requirements easier.
Do you remember the methane gas flame that burned by the Outagamie County landfill? This was a visible sign of unused energy that was just waiting for technology to find a way to use it. New generators were installed at the landfill that would convert methane gas generated by decaying garbage into electricity. Wisconsin Public Power Inc. (WPPI) purchases the entire output from this production and distributes it into the Kaukauna Utilities distribution system for the benefit of all WPPI members. Speaking of unused energy, solar power was talked about for years, but with little results. Technology finally evolved producing lighter panels which were easier to work with. Kaukauna Utilities installed solar panels as early as 2008 at the 1000 Islands Environmental Center. This fixed panel on the roof at 1000 Islands was one of the test sites. Today this system is still in place and produces renewable energy for all to enjoy.
Kaukauna Utilities has a long history of working with students throughout the Kaukauna School District on energy-related projects. In 2009 Kaukauna High School competed at Wisconsin International Raceway in the Challenge Wisconsin Race in the Electrathon division. The goal of the Wisconsin electrathon is to bring attention to the environmental problems caused by conventional cars and demonstrate the viability of electric vehicles. Also that year, Kaukauna Utilities approached the civic engagement class at the high school to come up with a plan to improve the park on the 36-acre parcel at Rapide Croche Dam. This site needed a lot of clean-up before work could begin on making trails, installing steps and a viewing platform among other items.
Kaukauna Utilities started off 2010 by looking into the possibility of purchasing the Kimberly hydroelectric facility from NewPage Corp. Once this transaction was completed, Kaukauna Utilities became the owner of all eight hydro facilities between the College Avenue Bridge in Appleton and Wrightstown. The energy generated at the new Kimberly Hydro Facility would be sold to WPPI Energy for use among its 51 municipally owned utilities.
The summer of 2010 was all about the strange weeds in the Fox River that were clogging KU hydro plants. The weed was finally identified as coontail which is a long, string-like weed that tends to clump, ball together and sink. When it sinks it can clog the trash rack and cause a loss in the ability to generate power. Instead of raking the trash racks once or twice a week in the summer, this weed was causing KU crew members to rake the racks six days a week!
The first wind turbines in the City of Kaukauna were installed at Kaukauna High School. These two turbines produce enough energy to power about five homes for a year. The wind turbines provide a great educational tool to the students as they are able to track data on a daily basis. Later on in the year, a single wind turbine was installed at the Little Chute High School campus.
Where were you when the tornado of 2011 hit? It’s hard to believe that almost a year has gone by since Kaukauna felt the wrath of a tornado. The utility had to replace a lot of wire and a few power poles. Utility crews along with city crews worked through the night to restore power and make our streets safe to travel on. The destruction that occurred throughout our city has been cleaned up, but empty lots where houses once stood can still be seen.
Thank you for following along over the past months as we looked back through 100 years of Kaukauna Utilities history. Hopefully you learned something about your utility or were reminded of something that happened in the past. It all began in 1912 with a special referendum vote passed by the citizens of Kaukauna to authorize the City of Kaukauna to take over the operations of Kaukauna Gas, Electric and Power Company. The water department was added, and Kaukauna Utilities was born. Kaukauna become known as the “Electric City” because of its ability to harness the waters of the Fox River to produce electricity. Throughout the years as customer demand grew, so did the utility. Power lines were run to rural areas, substations were rebuilt or new ones constructed, new wells were dug, larger water towers were erected while old towers were dismantled, and now solar, wind and biogas technologies are also being used to generate power.