Werner Buehler has come full circle in his long career in the electrical power industry.
He is back with Douglas Electric Cooperative (DEC), now as its interim general manager. He has traveled many miles in the industry and made many stops before his return to Roseburg. Back in the early 1970s as a Roseburg High School junior, he got a job with the co-op. He was in charge of mowing the grass, cleaning the bathrooms and trimming the hedge.
“The hedge is gone now,” Buehler, now 63, said with a chuckle.
Buehler is succeeding Paul Leonard, who retired as DEC’s general manager, his final day was last Wednesday. Leonard worked for the co-op for 37 years, having previously been the chief financial officer before becoming the GM 18 months ago.
Leonard and the Douglas board called Buehler and asked if he was interested in helping out his hometown co-op on a short-term basis. Buehler had just retired in February as the general manager of Oregon Trail Electric Cooperative in Baker City, but he said he felt honored to be called and obliged to help.
“Douglas Electric gave me my start in this business and I want to give something back,” he said. “To have worked at all the different places I’ve worked in this business and then to have the opportunity to come back, to come full circle, it is pretty exciting.”
The circle started in Roseburg. He graduated from high school in 1972, attended Umpqua Community College for two years and then attended the University of Oregon, earning a degree in journalism. During his college years, he worked during summer months and other school breaks at Douglas Electric, gradually learning how to be a groundman, lineman and equipment operator. After graduating from UO, he was hired by DEC as the member services representative, working as the liaison between the co-op and its membership.
In 1978, Buehler went to work for Pacific Power & Light. Over the next 10 years, he was an energy consultant for that company in Sunnydale, Washington; then an industrial consultant back in Roseburg; an operations superintendent in Libby, Montana, and a district manager in Prineville.
Over the next couple of decades, Buehler continued to expand his experience at different jobs. In 1988, he became the district manager for Citizens Utilities Company in Lake Havasu City, Arizona; in 1991 he was the general manager of Trinity County Public Utilities District in Weaverville, California; in 1994 he became the principal partner in Alliance Strategies, a marketing and consulting utilities firm in Portland; in 1997 he accepted the general manager position with Salmon River Electric Cooperative in Challis, Idaho; in 2004 he took the manager’s job with Coos-Curry Electric Cooperative in Port Orford and for the past 10 years he was the GM at Oregon Trail.
“There was always something more challenging with new skills to be learned if you were willing to move,” Buehler said of his numerous jobs. “It was great for developing a body of knowledge.”
The new Douglas general manager will now use that knowledge to help the co-op’s board through the process of hiring a permanent GM. Buehler figures a replacement could be hired within the next six months.
Buehler’s experience includes helping the Oregon Trail board find his replacement for that co-op before he retired early this year.