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We give during the holidays because we care

In all the hustle and bustle of the holiday season, we remember that this time of year can be especially stressful for people in the community who are already living with extraordinary challenges. Employees at American Transmission Co. care about our community and give their time and resources to those who need a little extra hope during the holidays.

For example, employees from our De Pere office volunteered to make a delicious dinner at Freedom House in Green Bay. Freedom House is a shelter for families experiencing homelessness that provides skills and resources to help families become self-sufficient.

De Pere employees also donated items to three local organizations that serve those in need:

  • Court Appointed Special Advocates of Brown County – a volunteer-based non-profit organization that provides a voice for abused and neglected children who are under the legal protection of the court system.
  • House of Hope – offers a safe, supportive place where young parents and children experiencing homelessness will become confident, independent and successful members of our community.
  • Wisconsin Humane Society – committed to providing protection, shelter and care for wild and homeless animals.

This time of year also can be especially challenging for patients in recovery at Rogers Memorial Hospital. Rogers is a non-profit, independent provider of specialized mental health and addiction services for adults, teens and children. Pewaukee employees donated gifts to help bring smiles to patients at Rogers in Brown Deer who can use a little extra care from the community.

Our generous Dane County employees donated food and funds to Second Harvest of Wisconsin Share Your Holidays campaign to help provide additional meals during the winter season.

We know that the holidays are just a little brighter in our community thanks to our wonderful employees.

Badger Coulee transmission line placed in service

Line will deliver reliability, economic and renewable energy benefits

The Badger Coulee transmission line, which electrically connects the Dane County area with La Crosse County area, is energized and now part of an integrated electric system serving customers in the region.

The line will help ensure reliable electricity for the region and provide access to lower-cost power and renewable energy. It is part of a portfolio of projects that will help enable the delivery of 25 gigawatts of renewable energy. A 20-mile portion of the project in Dane County was placed in service in 2017.

“Xcel Energy is committed to making investments to deliver safe, reliable and affordable electricity to our customers for decades to come,” said Michael Lamb, Xcel Energy Senior Vice President, Transmission. “This new transmission line opens up additional pathways for carbon-free energy including allowing wind and solar to enter the grid.”

The project was included in a group of 17 Multi-Value Projects designated by the Midcontinent Independent System Operator, which oversees the electric grid in the region. These projects are expected to create $12.1 billion to $52.6 billion in net economic benefits over the next 20 to 40 years and enable 41 million megawatt hours per year of wind generation, which could meet the electric needs of approximately 4 million homes.

“We are very pleased that the Badger Coulee transmission line is now in service,” said Clean Grid Alliance Executive Director Beth Soholt. “This line is a vital link in the integrated network of MISO multi-value transmission projects. Completion of this line not only enables the delivery of thousands of megawatts of clean, low-cost wind power, it will also reduce congestion in the MISO energy market, and add to the reliability of the overall MISO grid.”

This 180-mile, 345,000-volt transmission line was approved by the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin in April 2015 and construction activities began in 2016. There was significant economic impact of jobs and worker spending in local communities during construction.

International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 2150 Assistant Business Manager Jay Allen noted that approximately 90 percent of the 300 Badger Coulee workers from their union live in Wisconsin.

“These jobs provide excellent wages and benefits to our members,” said Allen. “A project such as Badger Coulee has a large economic impact on the local communities. A number of the workers on this project stayed in motels and ate in restaurants near the construction site of the transmission line. Other local businesses that benefited from the project include, campgrounds, department stores and hardware stores.”

“We appreciate the cooperation of area residents and the public as we worked on this project beginning with public involvement in 2010 to completing construction this year,” said American Transmission Co. Director of Environmental and Local Relations Gregory Levesque. “We will be continuing restoration work on portions of the project next year. The ATC environmental department also will continue periodic monitoring through 2023 in the right-of-way to evaluate restoration, revegetation, erosion control and invasive species in certain areas as required by state and federal permits.”

Visit www.badgercoulee.com for more information about the project.

Sharing our gratitude with the community

We are thankful for organizations in the community who help care for people in need, and we like to lend a hand when we can to support great programs and show how much we care.

While we were preparing for our own Thanksgiving meals and traditions, a group of employees volunteered to help United Way of Greater Milwaukee & Waukesha County and Hunger Task Force pack boxes of food for seniors. We joined forces with volunteers from BMO Harris Bank to pack 680 boxes, or 17 pallets, of food. Hunger Task Force delivers 10,000 boxes of food to individuals and families each month.

To comfort patients at Season’s Hospice & Palliative Care and help them stay a bit warmer this season, we made lap blankets in our Pewaukee office. The blankets are made of fleece, tied together by fringes cut around the edges. Our nimble-fingered team made 27 blankets in one day. One of our talented and generous employees also made memorial bears for Season’s to give to loved ones of patients who have passed on.

We are grateful to our employees who share their time and talents with these wonderful community organizations. Happy Thanksgiving!

We salute our active military employees

In honor of Veterans Day, we salute our active military employees for their commitment to serve our country as well as American Transmission Co. It takes spirit and dedication to successfully balance military duties, civilian work, personal and family life, and we appreciate our employees who do.

Helping a squadron of 500 work together

System Control Operator Chace Parask has been in the United States military for 23 years. He spent eight years in the Army as a combat medic and cavalry scout. He currently serves in the Minnesota Air National Guard.

During his recent deployment, Parask was stationed in Qatar and put in charge of the welfare of more than 500 enlisted personnel. Part of his job was to brief each one of them in several small group formats.

“I gave them two general principles to guide them over the course of their deployment that were simple, and they could remember: One, take personal responsibility, and two, take care of your wingman. Over the course of the seven months in the Middle East every personnel problem I encountered involved one or both principles being violated. Taking ownership of our own issues and making decisions with our fellow man in mind leads to a harmonious working environment. I find that when people are happy and harmonious we achieve the greatest productivity.”

“As for my role in the military I appreciate the opportunity to serve my fellow man.” Parask said. “No matter what the political world climate is there is always a fellow soldier, sailor or airman that needs a comrade. It brings me great pleasure to serve in a capacity where I can make fellow troops’ lives better.”

Living in the desert for many months, Parask said the thing he missed most while deployed was vegetation. The people he missed most were of course his children and family.

“The thing I like best about returning to ATC is the people,” said Parask. “The appreciation, the patience and the overwhelming support have been amazing. Returning after being gone so long I was very concerned about being an asset to ATC and getting back up and running as soon as possible. ATC and the people here have made the transition back home and back at work very welcoming.”

Military role provides welcome challenges

Jake Jenkins, associate design engineer, has served in the Wisconsin Army National Guard for 10 years.

Jenkins provides intelligence oversight and support for an assault helicopter battalion. In addition, he supervises a group of intelligence professionals that monitor situations, current events, local threats and anything that could affect pilot operations. Last year, Jenkins spent seven months deployed in Iraq.

“There are many things I like about my role in the military,” said Jenkins, “I like that fact that the work itself challenging, fast paced and ever-changing. Other than that, I like serving with other Wisconsin Guardsmen who take pride in the work we do to carry out state and federal missions.”

While deployed, what Jenkins missed most was the ability to relax and take time to recharge. Upon returning to work at ATC, he was glad to see all the familiar faces and catch up with his co-workers.

Service members honor ATC bosses

Over the years, several ATC leaders have been recognized with a Patriot Award from the Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve for providing a supportive work environment for their reservist employees. The ESGR is a Defense Department program dedicated to promoting cooperation and understanding between civilian employers and their National Guard and Reserve employees.

The Patriot Award is awarded to individual supervisors who not only hire reservists but demonstrate superior support to the military employee and his or her family through a wide-range of measures including flexible schedules, time off prior to and after deployment, caring for families and granting leaves of absence if needed.

This year, Jeff Rutkowski, system operations administrator, presented Lori Pernsteiner, EMS team leader, with a Patriot Award, and Tam Vo, engineering team leader, was presented with the award by Jake Jenkins.

In another ESGR honor for employers, two ATC employees were sent on a special air ride dubbed the “Boss Lift” in Milwaukee this summer.

Boss Lifts allow active Guard and Reserve members to send their leaders to join a special mission. This year, John Gould, project management team leader, sent Sarah Justus, director of construction, and Jeff Rutkowski sent Lori Pernsteiner.

“I was so impressed with the members of the Air Guard. Knowing that part-time members put so much effort into training to work right alongside full-time members, while still maintaining their ‘day jobs,’ is an amazing testament to their commitment and professionalism,” said Justus.

“This event was a great opportunity for our supervisors to see the behind-the-scenes efforts and the pride and commitment those in the military have, particularly those of us in the National Guard,” said Gould. “For most in the National Guard, the military is their ‘second job,’ but we don’t treat it as such – it’s a privilege to serve our state and nation and we take it very seriously.”

ATC values our employees who have served or are serving in the military for their service to our country. They make up roughly 10 percent of our workforce and are an important part of our team. ATC is proud to support these individuals in their career growth at ATC and applauds the supervisors who support their reservist employees.

Game changer: Youth mountain biking offers participation for all

Think about the last time you attended a high school athletic game. There are the familiar scenes – the fans, the concession stand, the coaches, the players on the court or out on the field.

But take a closer look. Do you see them? The players on the far end of the bench. Do they look interested? Sure, some do. But others are giving the impression that they’d rather be doing something else.

That’s where high school mountain biking comes into play. It’s a sport that has surged in popularity in Wisconsin in just the last few years – and it’s not hard to see why, said Jay Johannes, American Transmission Co. senior project engineer. Johannes assists in coaching the Waukesha County Homeschool Team – a group of 6th through 12th grade boys and girls who are having a great time doing “something else.”

“Every kid has different abilities,” Johannes said. “We don’t exclude. Every kid gets a chance. You don’t sit on a bench, you participate.”

Paul Roltgen, senior estimator at ATC, agreed with his colleague. Roltgen is the coach and director of three teams in Sun Prairie and Madison. He struggled for years to find a sport that interested his son and daughter until he learned about high school mountain biking. His 15-year-old son, Owen, currently participates in the Sun Prairie High School team.

“I really like that we are an all-inclusive sport,” Roltgen said. “All the kids participate, and we are not all performance based. Our objective as coaches is to make cycling and staying active a lifelong pursuit – not just something you do during your school years – but something the athletes can take with them through life.”

A five-year history in Wisconsin

The Wisconsin High School Cycling League was originally founded as the Wisconsin Interscholastic Cycling Association in 2013. Later that year, it became an affiliate of the National Interscholastic Cycling Association and adopted its new name.

What began as a 60-member league now serves 953 students on more than 50 teams across the state and Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Across the country, 25 leagues are made up of more than 17,000 riders.

Johannes became involved in the league last year. A friend’s children were previously involved in a local composite team and thought it was a great opportunity for his 15-year-old son, Paul. In 2017, the Waukesha County Homeschool Team had 10 riders on the team ranging from 6th through 12th grade. This year, 16 students participated.

Rules of the off-road

Each Wisconsin League season begins in July with practices twice a week through August, learning basic off-road biking skills and building endurance. Riders average 367 hours of participation and training each season.

For Johannes’ team, practices are held at Minooka Park in Waukesha and Lapham Peak in Delafield. In Sun Prairie, Roltgen worked with city officials to develop trails in Sheehan Park, where most of his team practices are held, in addition to other local off-road bike trails.

An expensive mountain bike isn’t always necessary to compete – in fact, many team members have cheaper models. What’s really important is that members ride safely. Both coaches and participants must adhere to NICA rules and undergo annual training.

“You can’t even put your leg over the bar unless you have a helmet on, and that goes for coaches, too,” Johannes said. “We know that this sport has hazards, so we encourage safety.”

Five league races are scheduled throughout September and October. This year’s races were held in Waukesha, Mt. Morris, Eau Claire, Wausau and Waterloo. Each race draws nearly 1,500 people and requires 140 volunteers. Races are held on the weekends and are typically 5½ miles long for each lap. The number of laps vary based on grade and/or ability level.

Johannes said mountain biking is a sport that “really grows on parents” and he has seen families that have embraced a healthier lifestyle because of it. A survey of Wisconsin League riders showed 95 percent of student athletes report an increase in health and fitness.

An opportunity to build confidence, endurance

As team coaches, Johannes and Roltgen inspire and encourage young people as they build confidence, strength and endurance to accompany their academic pursuits. Eighty-nine percent of riders have a GPA of 3.1 or higher.

“Mountain biking in itself is extremely challenging, so to see the youth put themselves out there really shows their ability to adapt and overcome,” Roltgen said. “I think today, where just making the team in high school sports requires so much, it’s good to see there is an outlet for some kids that don’t fit the niche of the big three sports.”

For Roltgen, the comradery at the events is what lets the coaches and parents know they are part of something special.

“I know this when the crowd is cheering and clapping as loud for the last-place athlete as the first, recognizing that each athlete is overcoming their own monumental challenges.”

If you would like to learn more about high school mountain biking in Wisconsin, visit wisconsinmtb.org.