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Princeton Public Utilities’ new general manager starts work next week.

Keith Butcher, a Southern Minnesota Municipal Power Agency energy services representative, will replace Connie Wangen effective May 29.

SMMPA generates and sells wholesale electricity to 18 municipally owned utilities around the state.

Princeton Public Utilities joined SMMPA in 1984; the agency’s electricity comes from a 41% share of the 884 megawatt coal-fired Sherco 3 plant near Becker.

Wangen submitted her resignation letter in March. Her last day of employment is May 31.

In February, Wangen informed commissioners she would resign. She is retiring after 33 years of employment.

Princeton Public Utilities Commission Chair Mindi Siercks said she was “very happy” with the collective effort involving city staff and PUC members that reviewed five candidates who applied for the position.

“We had very qualified candidates who interviewed well and made the choice hard,” Siericks stated in an email. “City Administrator Bob Barbian, Councilor Jenny Gerold, Councilor Jules Zimmer, Councilor Jack Edmonds, Connie Wangen, and myself spent a lot of time to preparing for the interviews.”

Siercks said the search and review committee did not take its task lightly, because it had big shoes to fill with Wangen’s retirement on the staffing horizon.

“We placed employment ads in about eight papers, and worked with the Minnesota Municipal Utilities Association and the American Public Power Association to place publication and website ads,” she said.

The committee narrowed the list down to two finalists.

Those finalists were called back for a second interview with PUC Commissioner Dan Erickson and Edmonds.

Butcher was selected by the commission as the new general manager.

“He’s been an employee of SMMPA, and he’s very familiar with a lot of our customers,” Wangen said.

Paul Twite, the general manager at Delano Municipal Utilities, was the other finalist selected by the search committee, Wangen said.

Overall, she said the application process produced some very good candidates.

“We were pleased with the applicants we had and the amount of experience they all had in their prospective fields of water and electric,” Siercks added. “I feel Keith will be a great fit at PPU. He understands the area and the customer needs of small town and also strives to create new possibilities for growth and conservation.”

Butcher started working as an SMMPA employee in 2007. He’s currently responsible for energy efficiency programs in six SMMPA member communities, including Princeton.

Throughout his career, Butcher said he’s developed an intimate knowledge of both the strategic and daily issues affecting Minnesota electric utilities.

That knowledge includes energy efficiency, renewable strategies, staffing needs, rate determination, reliability concerns, generation operation, planning, and regulatory emission requirements.

Prior to joining SMMPA, Butcher served as external affairs manager for the Center for Energy and Environment, a nonprofit that provides cost-effective programs to help Minnesota homeowners, businesses, nonprofits and governments reduce energy costs and save money.

Butcher has a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Minnesota and a master’s degree in science and technology policy (with a concentration on energy policy) from the U of M’s Humphrey School of Public Affairs.

“I’ve always been interested in how we do things as a society,” Butcher said. “There are a lot of interactions between science and government and politics and what we want to do as a country, and as a state and as a city.”

While working for CEE, Butcher said he served as an advocate for effective energy policy. His efforts involved energy efficiency, renewables, or looking at rates of return for investor-owned utilities.

Butcher said one benefit of the municipal utility structure includes on-site resources [such power generation] and staff that can meet needs that are specific to a community.

“One of the beautiful things about municipal utilities involves hands-on customer service,” he said. “If you want to pay your bill or just have any a question or concern, you can just go to the local utility office and talk directly with the people who are involved. That gets to be a little more difficult when you are dealing with a larger utility that might have offices in the Twin Cities or many miles away.”

Princeton’s local generation component is extremely valuable, Butcher added.

“If there are major complications that do come up system-wide that affect the grid, there is an ability for a community such as Princeton to isolate itself. There’s enough generation here to supply the needs of the entire community for a period of time until things get resolved.”

When Butcher started working with SMMPA, Princeton was among his assigned communities.

“I’ve been coming to Princeton for about 12 years, working with the staff and its customers and helping them manage program offerings,” he said “I’m extremely excited about this community. I’m ready to dig in and continue to provide the excellent level of service that Princeton Public Utilities has provided over many years.”

Butcher has plenty of praise for Wangen and her years of service.

“She’s been with the utility for 33 years,” he said. “I can’t think of anyone more dedicated to the Princeton community.”

Butcher also praised Wangen’s leadership and community outreach.

“I wish her all of the best, and I think she’s been phenomenal as a general manager, and if I can be even half of what she was, I will consider my career [here] a success.”

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