Orrville Municipal Utilities: Preparing and Planning for Orrville’s Economic Future

The city of Orrville, Ohio, may not be America’s largest, but residents need reliable electricity, clean water and dependable telecommunication services just like any other city. For more than a century, Orrville Municipal Utilities (OMU) has provided the 125 square-mile municipality not only with the necessary utilities, but the friendly customer service to support local businesses and industries. More than anything it is OMU’s wholly-owned electric generation facility, proactive approach and foresight that ensure utilities stay affordable for generations to come.
 
OMU’s oldest utility dates all the way back to 1894 when the city formed a Board of Waterworks to design and build a waterworks facility to serve Orrville. Not soon after, what was then the Village of Orrville formed a waste water treatment division in 1908, followed by an electrical utilities division which includes a telecommunications group to supply high-speed Internet and networking.
 
With Great Responsibility
The city of Orrville is home to major companies like J.M. Smucker Company, Smith Dairy Products Company and JLG Industries, spanning food and beverage production all the way to industrial access equipment. Because of the industrial heavyweights who bolster the local economy, OMU is under immense pressure to ensure consistent utility supply for years to come.
 
As Jeff Brediger, director of utilities at OMU points out, its’ essential business is not as simple as being a reliable utility. “We have many energy intensive industries in our city and many of them wouldn’t be here if we didn’t provide the rate structures and support services we do.” To succeed, OMU employs a combination of long-term planning and proactive maintenance to keep rates affordable for individuals and industries alike.
 
“We are unique in our area because there are only a handful of utility companies who handle the scope of services we do with the amount of internal support we can provide,” says Brediger. Of course, supplying a whole city with essential utilities is not an easy job and Brediger and the OMU team is constantly taking proactive measures to keep facilities in tip-top shape to avoid frequent, costly expansions and major upgrades. In fact, the wastewater treatment plant dates all the way back to 1951, but the facility went under significant upgrades in 1967 and 1989. It is because of the OMU team’s preventative maintenance that the utility has no needs for major expansions or upgrades in the future. Similarly, the water treatment plant was upgraded to treat 3.7 million gallons of water per day in 1997, even though current consumption hovers around two million gallons a day.
 
Keeping Track of What Matters Most
OMU was founded by the community, and the utility understands the importance of cost controls, especially in today’s economy. Thankfully, OMU prepares for future consumption, sometimes decades ahead of time and is constantly developing new initiatives to increase efficiency and stabilize supply. “We just launched our Energy Efficiency Smart Program to help customers find new ways to decrease their energy consumption, save money and offer rebates on energy efficiency products,” says Brediger. Businesses and individuals alike can find rebates for purchases as small as a compact-fluorescent light bulb and as large as a new energy efficient refrigerator.
 
In addition, OMU offers an online tool for customers to conduct an in-home energy audit. The new program allows customers to analyze bills and identify ways to save money by taking into account current appliance models and compare heating and air conditioning systems to newer models. After all the information is entered a customer receives an estimate of how much money could be saved monthly. As an Orrville-based utility a personal touch is vital, so OMU also offers an “Ask an Expert” email feature to respond directly to customer queries.
 
Looking Long-term
Long-term financial solidity is crucial to OMU’s continued success and the team constantly looks for ways to prepare for future use. OMU is part of the American Municipal Power (AMP) which operates as a joint action agency to finance mutually beneficial infrastructure developments and keep costs low to customers along the way. “At the moment we’re involved in six new construction projects with AMP to secure new power sources outside our borders,” says Brediger. The six investments include one advanced clean coal-fired generation plant,  four hydro electric plants on the Ohio River and one combined cycle natural gas plant. As a principle, AMP’s investments aim to include as many different, domestic power sources as possible to diversify and hedge increasing environmental regulations in the future. Of course, reliability is also a concern and each plant is constructed and engineered to surpass current EPA regulations in preparation for further limitations.
 
According to Brediger, Orrville and OMU’s biggest threat is the looming environmental regulations that the EPA will eventually enact, but OMU takes it in stride and prepares for it like anything else. “Increased environmental regulations could significantly impact our coal-burning generation plant here, which would have a trickle-down effect to the local industries who count on us to do business.”
 
Overall though, the city of Orrville has weathered the past two years much better than other areas of the country and the OMU team remains positive about its ability to plan and respond. All of utilities’ divisions are knocking on the door of a centennial celebration and when the electrical division celebrates its own centennial in 2017, Brediger, his team at Orrville Municipal Utilities and the city of Orrville are sure to have much to celebrate.