When I drive into Sioux Center from out of town at night and see the glow over town, I think about what electricity means to a community. I think of what life would look like without electricity. We use it almost everywhere.

Electricity is a necessity to us.

And that’s part of what makes our work enjoyable.

In this job you work to provide a necessary service for people you care about.

I went to school to become an electric lineman for a lot of reasons, but the one thing I did not realize about working for municipal utilities is that a handful of guys are responsible for a utility that serves thousands of customers.

Here in Sioux Center, we own our local electric utility.

In the Electric Department, we are a group four guys: Troy, Lorn, Landon and myself. We each have responsibilities and are always on-call, around the clock, in case of an outage or emergency. We take pride in keeping the lights on for our families and friends. It’s personal for us. Because of that, our level of responsibility goes up.

We work individually, but we also work collectively as a crew on larger tasks. That’s the most enjoyable part of my work. Each one of the crew takes ownership for the utility and is looking for ways to improve.

Because the community owns the electric utility, we have more control over how we invest in our system’s reliability.

We’re not looking to squeeze as much money out of it as we can because that kind of decision making does not have any good longevity.

We’re always staying ahead of the curve on maintenance. That way, we can avoid a time when our entire system is reaching the end of its usable life and causing citywide problems.

Because this utility is ours, we make decisions for the long-term best interest.

We’re working to make sure when you flip on your light switch, charge your phone or power tools, switch on your baby monitor, run your cash register, or turn on your computer, the power you need is delivered to you.

Here’s how that works on a daily basis:

Our power comes into Sioux Center on transmission lines. We own two substations that are served by 69kV transmission lines (kV is kilovolt, or thousand volts).

Our substations transform that voltage down to 12.5 kV and divide the power into 26 circuits that run through our town. Along those circuits, there are switches that divide into smaller sections or neighborhoods.

Then the power runs through a transformer near your home and business to reduce the voltage down to a safe and effective level to use to power your electrical equipment and lights.

In Sioux Center, all of this is done underground, which increases reliability and aesthetics. Just because it’s underground doesn’t mean it doesn’t age or encounter issues, though. To stay on top of our system’s performance, we rely heavily on mapping, because you can’t just look up and see a broken pole or other hazards, and we rely on good record keeping of all the equipment, so we know where it is at in its usable life span.

What does a day in the electric department look like? We do a broad range of jobs from maintaining the substation to working on your meter or streetlight. In the summer months, we install underground wire and equipment in new developments. We also run services to homes and businesses, and we install and maintain all the streetlights and traffic signals.

Each year we go back into existing parts of town and upgrade equipment and wire that is aging before it fails. You may see us in your backyard even if you haven’t experienced any power issues. We’re probably replacing aging equipment to help avoid ever having those issues.

In our office, we can monitor the system as a whole. That was an investment we made into our system, including the new meter that was installed at your home or business. Now, we can look at our screen and see that all 2,681 meters are on and power is flowing as it should. With a glance, we can see that all 26 circuits are working. And we can be ready in an instant if anything needs our attention.

What can you do to help keep our community’s electric system running smoothly?

  • Give us room to access and work around the green boxes in your yard (10-12 feet in front of each box).
  • Call 811 before you dig, even for smaller projects.
  • Report any transformer box or equipment that has a city of Sioux Center label on it that is unlocked or is off its cement slab. Our phone number is listed right on the equipment.

Next time you drive into Sioux Center, take a moment to enjoy the glow. We’re happy to bring it to you, night after night.

Ezra Weikert is the Sioux Center Municipal Utilities electric department head. He has worked with the department since 2014.