Powering Strong Communities

Minnesota’s Willmar Municipal Utilities Earns High Marks In Customer Satisfaction Survey

A customer satisfaction survey completed by Q Market Research found that residents are highly satisfied with the service they receive from Willmar Municipal Utilities (WMU), a Minnesota public power utility.

In a Q&A with Public Power Current, John Harren, General Manager at WMU, noted that there was a 15% survey response rate. Q Market Research said that was a high response rate especially for the first time a customer satisfaction survey was performed for the utility, he noted.

“Our Net Promoter Score was 47.7 at the upper end of the ‘Good’ range, just shy of the Excellent rating. The Net Promoter Score measures the likelihood of customers recommending WMU,” he said.

Satisfaction with service rated in the excellent range. This measures the Value Enhancement Score, which measures how customers feel after they interact with staff. “Our score of 6.15 out 7 demonstrates that customers are satisfied or pleased after interacting with staff,” Harren said.

Customer preference to contact WMU was by phone and to have the ability to speak to a live person.  “We pride ourselves in communicating with our customers and continue to answer our phones without automation during business hours,” he said.

Over half of the respondents rated their familiarity with WMU energy rebates low. “This finding has encouraged staff to enhance outreach and involvement in the community through educational avenues, social media, community events and activities to promote our energy rebate program,” Harren said.

Since joining Missouri River Energy Services (MRES), “they have greatly assisted us in our rebate program through their Bright Energy Solutions.”

Wind Power

Meanwhile, WMU’s two wind turbines recently produced record output.

“Wind turbine performance was due to excellent wind in the month of May and talented Wind Turbine Technicians dedicated to keep them operating,” Harren said.

“Over the years we have had various mechanical issues with the wind turbines. WMU has trained technicians on staff, and they complete the majority of its own Wind Turbine maintenance outside of major repairs such as blade repair, etc.,” he said.

These technicians “pride themselves keeping the turbines operating and available to produce power at all times. This dedication by our technicians has paid dividends during a very windy month of May.”

Supply Chain Issues

Harren was asked whether WMU has faced any challenges related to the ongoing supply chain issues facing the electric utility sector.

“Like everyone else in the industry we have seen extraordinary extended lead times, sometimes well over a year. We have experienced manufacturers/suppliers ‘no-quote’ on projects. WMU has been creative with our inventory and have reverted back to purchasing available manual read electric meters to fulfill the needs of several new apartment complexes until new meters on order are available,” he said.

WMU is planning ahead and ordering materials for projects that are 2 plus years out to assure projects can be completed on time. 

A New Substation

In 2018. WMU shut down a coal/gas generating power plant and in 2020, it decommissioned its district heating system. “We are in the process of building a new substation to transition switchgear and controls from the old power plant,” he said.

Once this project is completed, the utility will move forward with demolition of the power plant.   Concurrently with the shutdown of the plant WMU became members of MRES.