Alan Michalewicz, new WREA manager, sees bright future

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RBC I An affinity for small towns and an early interest in electricity have landed Alan Michalewicz as the new general manager of White River Electric Association, headquartered in Meeker.
Michalewicz came on board officially in November from Black Hills Electric Co-op out of Custer, S.D., where he was vice president of operations and engineering. He joined Black Hills in 2004 and held the position of vice president of operations and engineering since 2006.
“I got into the business through electrical engineering in college because there are lots of applications available,” Michalewicz said. “I am basically a small town boy, and, with all three of our children in college, we figured it was time for me to move into a manager’s position. The job with White River Electric Association just fit perfectly at the time I started looking.”
Michalewicz and his wife, Karolyn, have three children, all in college. They have two daughters, Chelsie and Lauren, who are both students at the University of Nebraska — Kearney, while the youngest child, Joseph, was graduated from high school in May and is now attending the University of Nebraska in Lincoln.
Michalewicz earned his bachelor of science degree in electrical engineering with an emphasis on power systems from South Dakota State University in Brookings, S.D., in 1983. He is also accredited as a registered professional engineer in Nebraska and South Dakota.
After earning his degree, Michalewicz joined Southwestern Public Service Co. in 1984, first as a field engineer at Amarillo, Texas, then in Borger, Texas, then finally, in 1987, as industrial power engineer in Hobbs, N.M., until 1990.
In 1990, he joined Nebraska Public Power District (NPPD) as a field engineer in Kearney, Neb., where he was responsible for engineering capital additions and modifications to the 15 kiloVolt distribution system in 42 communities in central Nebraska.
In 1993, Michalewicz became regional engineering supervisor in Scottsbluff, Neb., a position he held until 1997. He was directly responsible for all sub-transmission and distribution engineering activities in 31 communities in western Nebraska,
In 1997, he returned to Kearney, where he served NPPD as retail operations support manager until 1999. While there, he was directly responsible for sub-transmission and distribution engineering, system control, metering, substation, load optimization and stores departments, consisting of 126 colleagues. He was also responsible for changing from regional operations to a statewide process-oriented operation. He served as retail Y2K team leader and was directly responsible for a $3.5 million operations and maintenance budget.
From 1999 to 2003, Michalewicz served as retail operations manager in Kearney. In that position, he was directly responsible for all sub-transmission and distribution systems consisting of 780 miles of sub-transmission, 2,470 miles of distribution and 147 substations in 78 communities, servicing 87,500 customers. He also supervised an organization consisting of 243 colleagues in engineering, system control, construction and maintenance, substation, metering, stores and fleet areas of NPPD.
Michalewicz joined Black Hills Electric Cooperative as field engineer in Kearney from 2004 to 2006. In that capacity, he was directly responsible for engineering capital additions and modifications to the 15 kiloVolt distribution system in five counties in South Dakota.
In 2006, he was promoted to vice president of operations and engineering at the co-op’s main office in Custer, S.D.
In that capacity, he was directly responsible for all sub-transmission and distribution systems, consisting of 780 miles of sub-transmission, 2,470 miles of distribution and 12 substations in five counties, service 8,500 members.
While there, he also supervised an organization of 15 colleagues in the engineering, construction and maintenance and metering areas. He was also responsible for creating the company’s 20-year long-range plan and a 4-year work plan during his last two years there. And he was directly responsible for a $7.8 million distribution and $3.9 million sub-transmission capital budget, a $15.3 million operating and maintenance budget and a $1 million transportation budget as well as being involved in all retail rate and extension rule changes.
As to why he is partial to working at the co-op level instead of with larger power companies, Michalewicz said, “Co-ops are closer to the members; I believe the co-op works so well because it doesn’t have any ‘stock holders’ per say, but the organization is owned by the members. I have worked where the focus was on the bottom line of the finances, and I can truly say I would much rather focus on the membership and doing what is possible to provide members with good service at a price that is as affordable as we can make it.”
Michalewicz said his biggest challenge now at WREA is and always will be the wholesale costs of the energy.
“Wholesale costs will continue to go up as it continues to be more and more expensive to produce the energy, but we are looking to keep those prices as low as we possibly can,” he said.
“And we still don’t know what the effect of Colorado’s Measure 252 (which requires cooperatives to increase their shares of renewable energy) is going to be,” he said. “It will likely cause prices to go up at some time, but I personally don’t expect to see a price increase during 2014. It is possible that the board at Tri-State may seek a small increase at mid-year, but it is not something I expect.”
When he can get away from the office, he is “interested in anything outdoors or sports related,” he said.
He specifically noted his interest in golfing and hunting along with “just about any kinds of sports.”
“We enjoy RVing, snowmobiling, UTVing on our four-wheeler and just getting into the outdoor environment,” Michalewicz said of himself and Karolyn.
“We have really enjoyed it here,” he said. “The people have been very friendly and very accepting and, until the last week, the weather has really been great.
“I am truly happy to be here in Meeker and with White River,” he said. “Besides all the good things about Meeker, WREA has a great board and great employees.
“I believe many of the big power-supply companies have lost sight of what it is that is important,” Michalewicz said. “It is nice to be tied to a company like WREA with closer relations to its members. I am looking forward to the future here with great optimism.”