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DL Public Utilities: from energy to internet, city helps provide it

The Detroit Lakes Public Utilities Department built a new building along Tower Road last year. Photo by Brian Basham

Detroit Lakes owns and operates its own electrical utility, and that’s good for business in a number of ways.

“We really put a premium on the credibility and reliability of our service,” said City Administrator Bob Louiseau. “That reflects directly on the community in the form of property taxes — we have one of the lowest (property tax levies) in the area.”

While everyone loves low property taxes, the city-owned utility makes Detroit Lakes a better place to live in several other ways as well.

It contributes to charitable causes and events throughout the year, and when it comes to attracting new development, it helps the city provide a $1.5 million loan fund open to eligible developers.

But having a city-owned electrical utility can be a boon to existing businesses as well.

City experts work with manufacturers and other businesses on ways to reduce power and water use — saving money for private enterprise and helping government meet state-mandated electrical efficiency goals.

“We can help them bring down their energy costs,” Louiseau said. City workers and specialists from the city’s power supplier — Missouri River Energy Resources  — are available to conduct assessments on business heating and lighting systems.

“They can look at the fluctuations and variability in the power supply and determine what can be done to improve it,” he said.

Like most cities, De-troit Lakes also operates its own water and wastewater utilities, and water officials can help businesses reduce water use as well, Louiseau said.

Helping businesses use less power and water helps the city through increased capacity.

Unlike big regional power companies, Detroit Lakes doesn’t have to worry about meeting the profit expectations of out-side investors.

“We’re going to make money,” Louiseau said, “but we don’t have to look like at investor return being at 12 percent  — we just want the return to be reasonable.”

Detroit Lakes can also beat the big power companies when it comes to customer service, since the employees work right in town and are easily available if someone has questions or needs advice, Louiseau said.

On the horizon is likely to be the implementation of a “conservation rate” to reward businesses and households that use less power, and punish in a backhanded way those that use more.

Under the system, overall rates would rise, but consumers could save money by using less power and water.

“A conservation rate raises overall costs, but we would try to offset that with lower costs for individual customers,” Louiseau said. “People are incentivized to be more efficient — we are moving in that direction.”