Great River Energy: Meeting the needs of a changing membership

The cooperative business model is designed to ensure that the values of the membership drive the strategy of the business. As member expectations change, the cooperative must adapt.

Todd-Wadena Electric Cooperative’s wholesale power supplier, Great River Energy, is discovering ways to evolve with changes among its membership and within the industry while continuing to do what it has always done: generate and transmit reliable and affordable electricity in harmony with a sustainable environment.

When research revealed that members were increasingly interested in solar electricity, Great River Energy and its member cooperatives devised programs that offered solar energy in ways that treated members fairly. Today, those cooperatives collectively own nearly 2 megawatts of solar capacity.

After stakeholders indicated there was growing momentum for the electrification of Minnesota’s economy, particularly transportation, Great River Energy and its member cooperatives responded with RevoltTM. This first-of-its-kind electric vehicle program allows cooperative members to fuel their vehicles with wind-generated electricity at no additional cost.

A strong financial backbone

Great River Energy maintained its strong financial position in 2015. The cooperative consistently receives investment-grade credit ratings and maintains wholesale rates below the averages. In fact, Great River Energy’s rate to its member cooperatives declined in 2015, and rate projections show moderate increases in the years ahead.

Curbing CO2 emissions

In August 2015, the Environmental Protection Agency released its Clean Power Plan, which would require a 32 percent reduction in carbon dioxide emissions (CO2) from the power sector by 2030. The Supreme Court has since issued a stay of the rule, which will require legal challenges to be settled before it could go into effect.

Despite the delay of this recent rule, the EPA is obligated to regulate CO2 emissions.  Great River Energy has long recognized that impending carbon regulation is a serious business issue. For that reason the cooperative has taken steps to prepare for regulations and actively engaged in discussions with state and federal agencies.

In recent years, Great River Energy has reduced its exposure to CO2 regulations by exiting a contract for half the output of a Wisconsin coal-based power plant, commissioning a coal plant compliant with the Clean Power Plan’s emission limits, and accelerating the depreciation of its remaining coal assets.

State accepts resource plan

The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission unanimously accepted Great River Energy’s Integrated Resource Plan by a vote of 5-0. The commission agreed with Great River Energy and its member cooperatives that the resource plan is in the best interest of the membership.

Great River Energy’s 15-year outlook provides options and flexibility for future power generation resources, adds new wind and hydro energy, and maintains energy efficiency and conservation programs.

CapX2020 fulfills promise

On March 26, the utilities involved in CapX2020 energized the Brookings County-Hampton project, a 250-mile, 345-kilovolt transmission line between Brookings County, S. D., and Hampton, Minn. Great River Energy served as project manager on the line, which establishes an important transmission link between the Twin Cities and generation resources, including wind energy.

CapX2020 is a joint initiative of 11 transmission-owning utilities in Minnesota and the surrounding region to expand the electric transmission grid to ensure continued reliable and affordable service. The projects have been in the works for more than 10 years. When the fifth and final project is completed in 2017, CapX2020 will have been responsible for 800 miles of transmission line and a total investment of more than $2 billion.

Investing in the reliability of vital resource

Great River Energy will soon undertake the largest transmission refurbishment project in the organization’s history with the overhaul and upgrade of the converter stations at both ends of the 436-mile high-voltage, direct-current transmission line, which delivers power to Minnesota from Great River Energy’s Coal Creek Station power plant in central North Dakota.

Maintaining Great River Energy’s high reliability standards for this system is not only critical for delivering power for its members now, but also because it will continue to provide a corridor for delivering energy from North Dakota for the foreseeable future.

Planning the grid of the future

Senior leaders and key staff from Great River Energy and its member cooperatives have begun discussing the evolution of the electric industry and investments in grid technology that will be essential to serving member-consumers in the future.

As part of that evolution, Great River Energy will deploy a new demand response management system in 2016. The system will introduce a new level of precision and control capability to Great River Energy’s existing demand response resources. Demand response allows cooperatives to avoid purchasing costly electricity during periods of heightened electricity use and maintain reliability while the grid is stressed.

New subsidiary operating county processing plant

When the Ramsey/Washington Recycling and Energy Board outlined plans to purchase a resource processing facility, they sought an operator with experience making energy from household waste. They found that in Great River Energy. Under an agreement that began Jan. 1, 2016, a new Great River Energy subsidiary, GRE Newport Services, LLC, will operate the Newport Resource Recovery Facility through Dec. 31, 2017.

Rising among the nation’s healthiest

Great River Energy was named the 14th healthiest workplace in the nation at the 2015 Healthiest 100 Workplaces in America awards ceremony. Great River Energy’s wellness initiatives, which support employees and their families to live healthier lives, continue to reap benefits and recognition for the organization. This is the second year Great River Energy has made the healthiest workplace listing, moving up from 31st place in 2014.

As Great River Energy faces new challenges, the cooperative finds strength through collaboration. Great River Energy and its 28 member cooperatives are learning from one another new ways to achieve their vision: to keep cooperative energy competitive.

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