2013
08.21

statefair

In 1859, just one year after achieving statehood, Minnesota held its first state fair. Its original purpose was to encourage farming in the state, so the early decades were dominated by agricultural exhibits, demonstrations and competitions to appeal to farmers.

Although the scope of the fair has broadened since then, the continued focus on agriculture draws large crowds from greater Minnesota – including a lot of cooperative members.

Because the values and priorities of the Minnesota State Fair and electric cooperatives align so closely, Great River Energy has long been a sponsor and exhibitor at the “Great Minnesota Get-Together.”

In fact, as part of its effort to uphold the “Concern for Community” cooperative principle, we sponsor events across Minnesota and North Dakota.

“Our sponsorships are focused in the areas where we have member cooperatives and where Great River Energy has facilities,” said Great River Energy’s Amanda Williams. “All of our efforts ultimately benefit our membership and the communities where we work and serve.” For instance, Great River Energy was the presenting sponsor of the Minnesota Twins Play Ball! Youth Clinics, which offered baseball training in more than 40 Minnesota communities. The clinics use baseball as a way to teach children about sportsmanship and the importance of making good decisions.

In northern Minnesota, our 2013 sponsorships included the Mesabi Trail Bike Tour and Two Harbors Kayak Festivals, events that bring together communities and co-op members in the great outdoors. In many cases, we will team up with the local member cooperative on a sponsorship. For instance, Great River Energy and Dakota Electric Association of Farmington, Minn., worked together to sponsor the Ramble Jam Country Music Festival in Farmington, Minn.

In Maple Grove, Minn., where we are headquartered, our sponsorships include the Maple Grove Days summer celebration and the Maple Grove Half Marathon.

By sponsoring events near our facilities, our employees become active members of the community. The same is true in North Dakota, where we have hundreds of employees but no member cooperatives.

Are you going to the Minnesota State Fair? Stop by our booth in the lower-level of the Grandstand to say “HI” – we’d love to see you!

healthiest employer running photo
Great River Energy took home ‘Best in Show’ during a recent banquet honoring the Twin Cities healthiest employers held by the Twin Cities Business Journal.

In addition to the grand prize, the company was also named the healthiest employer among companies with 500 to 1,499 employees.

Great River Energy has many health and wellness programs, including an annual 5K race, seasonal fruit and veggies provided to employees, and brown bag lunch events where guest speakers discuss various aspects of healthy living.

Congratulations to the Wellness Committee, and to all of our employees!

2013
06.24

For the seventh consecutive year, a pair of peregrine falcons is nesting atop the Elk River Energy Recovery Station.
DSC_0932_crp
The adult male falcon, named Sawatzke, returned for the second year in 2013. Along with female Mary Ellen, they laid three eggs with two of them hatching in late May.

The new arrivals, each called an eyas, were banded on June 20 by Amy Ries of the Decorah, Iowa-based Raptor Resource Project on June 20. The eyasses were brought to the ground, examined for health and sex, and have aluminum identification bands attached to their talons. The band numbers will be recorded in the Midwest Peregrine Database so they can be tracked in the future. Along with receiving bands, the eyasses were named by children attending the banding. The female was named Patricia, and the male was named Lucky.

Power plants are uniquely suited to hosting peregrine nests. The height of facilities, the generally open area where plants are sited, and proximity to rivers provide beneficial places to host nesting boxes.

Peregrine falcons are considered a threatened species, having been upgraded from the endangered list after the population was significantly degraded by the use of the pesticide DDT in the 1960s. Due to repopulation efforts such as the one in Elk River, the population has significantly rebounded.

There have been 19 eyasses that fledged in Elk River since the project began in 2006. In addition to banding and tracking, presentations are delivered at schools in the metro area to educate students about Great River Energy, peregrine falcons, and other environmental issues.

If you’re interesting in viewing and following the peregrine falcon family’s growth, the bird cam can be found here.

2013-4-17_Line_Crew

 

On Wednesday, the U.S. Senate passed a resolution honoring line technicians for their work in keeping the power on by designating today, April 18, 2013, as National Lineman Appreciation Day.

The resolution states that, “linemen are often first responders during storms and other catastrophic events, working to make the scene safe for other public safety heroes.”

Over the past few weeks, Great River Energy line technicians have spent long hours restoring power after ice storms in southwest Minnesota and heavy snow in northern parts of the state caused widespread outages.

Great River Energy has 34 line technicians who work out of eight transmission outposts in Minnesota and one in North Dakota.

Across the nation, more than 19,000 men and women maintain 2.5 million miles of line for electric co-ops, public power districts, and public utility districts.

The bill was introduced by Sens. Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.) and Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), and passed by unanimous consent.

Read the full text of the resolution online.

iceGreat River Energy has now restored service to all of the distribution substations that were out of service with the exception of one, the Nobles Cooperative Electric Bloom Substation. Great River Energy anticipates restoring service to that substation later today. However, even though Great River Energy has restored service to these substations, the cooperatives are still working on significant damage to their distribution systems, so in many cases end-use customers are still without power. Great River Energy employees have made significant progress in repairing the damaged transmission lines as well, and are now working north of Worthington on a line where 20 structures were damaged. Work on that line is anticipated to be finished by late Saturday, at which point Great River Energy expects to be finished with all repairs identified to date. Today a pilot is flying over the transmission system in the area to look for any further damage that has not yet been detected. Today is the first day the weather has permitted an aerial patrol. Neighboring utility ITC Midwest also sustained severe damage on much of their system – approximately 200 structures on just one transmission line – and they have reported significant progress on repairs as well.

iceGreat River Energy crews have been working since Tuesday night to repair damage to transmission lines and restore power in the Worthington, Minn., area. The outages, which have been caused by heavy ice build-up and what is known as galloping conductors, affected nearly 6,000 customers in the Nobles Cooperative Electric, Federated Rural Electric Cooperative, South Central Electric Association and Redwood Electric Cooperative areas. Progress has been made, but many customers are still without power as of Thursday afternoon.

Eight Great River Energy substations serving Federated, six serving Nobles, six serving South Central and two serving Redwood have been out of service.

“Overnight the situation went from bad to worse, but we are working as fast as we can to restore service,” said Dick Pursley, Great River Energy system operations manager.

Most of the damage has resulted from the weight of ice build-up, which has caused structures to tip over and break.

An interesting problem known as galloping conductors (transmission line wires) has also caused a number of outages. Galloping conductors are a leading cause of outages during ice storms. Galloping occurs when strong winds blow across ice-covered power lines, causing the conductors to bounce, or gallop. Galloping can cause conductors to strike each other, resulting in outages.

Other transmission utilities’ systems in the area also have suffered severe damage.

The boiler is at the heart of power generation. Fuel combustion produces heat to boil water, creating steam that spins a turbine to generate electricity.

Duluth-based Jamar serves the maintenance needs of utilities across the Midwest. The company recently lent its expertise during a planned maintenance outage at Great River Energy’s Elk River Energy Recovery Station.

Duluth-based Jamar serves the maintenance needs of utilities across the Midwest. The company recently lent its expertise during a planned maintenance outage at Great River Energy’s Elk River Energy Recovery Station.

Maintaining peak performance of the boilers and generators at Elk River Energy Recovery Station (ERERS) is essential for affordable delivery of electricity to Great River Energy’s 28 member cooperatives and more than 600,000 member consumers.

The three boilers at ERERS produce up to 29 megawatts of electricity from up to 1,100 tons of processed municipal solid waste per day—enough electricity for about 30,000 homes.

Since July 2005, Duluth, Minn.-based Jamar Company has supported maintenance activities at ERERS. Driven under the mission to “safely provide the greatest possible value for their customers,” the Jamar Company has created a niche out of serving the maintenance needs of utilities, process plants and pulp and paper plants. With nearly half of its business coming from Midwestern utilities, Jamar knows the importance of maintenance.

“Our goal is to make sure the facility is running as much as they want and as often as they want,” said Kevin Osterling, Industrial Division Manager at Jamar Company. “The key to that is making sure all the elements of the generation equation are working at optimum performance.”

The biggest components of Jamar’s ongoing maintenance work in Elk River are the annual plant outages. These outages consist of alternating shutdowns on each of three boilers as well as a nine day complete plant shutdown. During this period, Jamar’s maintenance work covers all plant systems from the fuel receiving building to the boilers and ash handling system.

Based on previous experience at the plant, Osterling and his team are able to predict the amount of normal wear and required maintenance of the equipment.

“During the annual outage, we focus on identified areas with a coordinated plan of attack,” said Osterling. “However, anytime you open up a boiler that operates in a corrosive environment, there are always a few surprises.”

Annually, the planned outage peaks at 200 workers with more than 45,000 total man-hours expended over the course of the project. To support an endeavor this large, Jamar makes a point of hiring local craftsmen including boilermakers, pipe fitters, millwrights, carpenters, laborers, iron workers and others.

“Just like Great River Energy, it is important to us that we support whatever community we work in,” said Osterling.

Coordinated maintenance activities help extend the life of key assets, and local companies are critical to that strategy for Great River Energy.

The Greater Twin Cities United Way recently presented Dakota Electric Association with its Best Caring Connection Involvement award in front of more than 800 United Way volunteers, donors and agency partners at the Campaign Victory Celebration and 2012 Best Of Awards at the Minneapolis Convention Center.

Accepting the award for everyone at Dakota Electric during the United Way awards celebration was (L-R) Janet Lekson, Margaret Schreiner, Steve Krech, Greg Miller, Joe Miller and Malinda Mehrhoff.

Accepting the award for everyone at Dakota Electric during the United Way awards celebration was (L-R) Janet Lekson, Margaret Schreiner, Steve Krech, Greg Miller, Joe Miller and Malinda Mehrhoff.

The award recognized Dakota Electric’s community involvement and volunteer efforts last year. During 2012, Dakota Electric celebrated its 75th Anniversary and promoted volunteerism among its employees and board of directors. The cooperative personnel volunteered at many different events all year long, providing more than 366 hours of service.

“We were honored to receive this award,” President and CEO Greg Miller said. “Even though we are a small company among many that were competing in the awards, we were elated that our community involvement efforts were recognized in such a significant way.”

The volunteer efforts were made up of a wide variety of services: packaging food for Feed My Starving Children, laboring on odd jobs at the local YMCA camp, cleaning windows and more at CommonBond Communities, shopping with children for school items, cooking and serving a meal for veterans, packaging laundry detergent and 500 pounds of beans and rice for local food shelves, ringing bells for The Salvation Army, filling birthday bags for Cheerful Givers, raking and fall cleanup at B. Robert Lewis House, assisting at a Bowl-a-Thon for Kids ‘N Kinship and collecting hats and mittens for Joseph’s Coat.

“Congratulations on your award,” United Way President and CEO Sarah Caruso said, “and thank you for setting the best example of corporate philanthropy in our community. We couldn’t do it without your leadership, your fantastic team and your support.”

While Dakota Electric has always been a strong community supporter, the anniversary volunteer efforts were focused on new opportunities for the company.

 “We selected organizations and events that we hadn’t previously supported,” Human Resources Manager Malinda Mehrhoff said. “Due to the positive employee feedback, we will continue to support and promote volunteer opportunities to employees going forward.”

“The credit goes to our employees and directors who stepped up to the plate and gave of their time all year long,” Miller said.

RErc award 002To recognize its rural development efforts, Federated Rural Electric was honored with a national award from the Rural Electricity Resource Council (RERC). The 2013 “Silver Switch Award” was presented to Federated by the RERC March 20 during its national conference in Louisville, Kentucky.

Federated, a rural electric cooperative in southwest Minnesota, was selected from several nominations for its economic development efforts in helping AGCO, a worldwide manufacturer and distributor of agricultural equipment. AGCO’s expansion allowed the High Horsepower assembly line to move from France to Jackson, Minnesota, plus build a visitor’s center. Federated secured a $740,000 U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development loan. The project resulted in 200 new jobs in addition to retained existing jobs. AGCO, which is not a member of the cooperative, expanded from 850 to more than 1,100 jobs.

Federated has a strong history with economic development projects. During the last 23 years Federated has helped 17 local businesses by securing economic development funds totaling $3.6 million. This has retained 1,086 jobs and secured 448 jobs.

Receiving the award on behalf of all Federated members was Andrea Christoffer, Federated’s marketing & communications manager. According to RERC Executive Manager Richard Hiatt, “Although several worthwhile programs were nominated, our selection committee chose Federated as the single organization to receive this year’s award. We are pleased to highlight and recognize their efforts.”

“We are humbled to receive this award, but the true recipients are those individuals who worked hard to see AGCO expand in Jackson,” stated Richard Burud, Federated’s general manager. “Thanks go to AGCO for choosing our community.”

As a nonprofit association of electric companies and cooperatives formed in 1957, the Rural Electricity Resource Council (RERC) sponsors this award to highlight innovative and proactive programs aimed at the rural sector. RERC also develops training materials and provides technical assistance on electricity’s value and safe use, with an emphasis on rural and agricultural customers.

2013
03.22

capitolThe Minnesota Legislature is considering several proposals that would negatively impact Great River Energy and its member cooperative throughout the state. Two Omnibus Energy bills are making their way through the Minnesota House and Senate.

Senate File 901 would establish a 2 percent by 2025 solar energy standard on top of the existing renewable energy standard (RES), which is one of the most ambitious in the country and is costing electric cooperatives millions every year. The bill also includes a 1 percent annual assessment on the retail sales of all utilities that would be used to create a utility-administered fund for solar incentives. In addition to the 1 percent assessment, the Senate measure takes 5 percent of the Conservation Improvement Program (CIP) statutory spending requirement and creates a fund for Made in Minnesota solar incentives.

The bill also dramatically increases the potential for cost shifting caused by distributed generation systems. The maximum size for net metering increases from 40 kilowatts (kW) to 1,000 kW for distributed generation systems fueled by renewables, natural gas or cogeneration. It also limits utilities’ ability to recover fixed costs by increasing the size threshold for exemption from utility standby charges from 60 kW to 10,000 kW.

“Each provision leads to significantly higher energy costs,” said Jon Brekke, Great River Energy vice president, member services. “The solar mandate will require us to add expensive generation when we don’t need it and the tax-funded subsidies would require all Minnesotans to pitch in on solar installations for wealthy homeowners.”

House presents similar proposal

The version of House File 956 that passed the House Energy Committee would have required utilities to purchase 4 percent of their electricity from solar energy and establish a goal of up to 10 percent from solar energy, in addition to the existing RES. The bill also included a 1.33 percent annual assessment on all utility sales to fund solar energy subsidies.

After the bill was proposed, Minnesota’s cooperatives joined together to provide detailed analytical data regarding the costs and detrimental effects of such legislation. And many cooperative members contacted their representatives to express their opposition to the House bill. The impact of the coordinated efforts of electric cooperatives was apparent during the bill’s next committee stop.

In the House Commerce and Consumer Protection Finance and Policy Committee, amendments removed the most onerous portions of HF956 for cooperatives and municipal utilities. Under the amendment, cooperatives and municipal utilities would be exempted from the solar energy standard and from paying the 1.33 percent annual assessment. Essentially, any provision of HF956 dealing with solar or renewable energy would be an opt-in for cooperatives and municipal utilities.

While this amendment is a good step forward, it is still just the beginning of the legislative process. HF956 still establishes many unsustainable policies and practices for the electric utility industry as a whole, with requirements for meter aggregation and third-party electric providers.

With its member cooperatives and the Minnesota Rural Electric Association, Great River Energy will continue to educate lawmakers about the negative effects of these bills.