October is Cooperative Month

We have a fun month lined up here in October to celebrate National Co-op Month. Check out all the fun below!

Co-op Month Trivia
Follow us on Facebook for Co-op Month Trivia. Each Monday in October, a new question will be posted to win a prize or energy credit.

Reader’s Contest
This month we will be choosing FIVE Reader’s Contest winners from the October Pine to Prairie newsletter. 

Coloring Contest
Hey kids! Get out your crayons and do your best job coloring this fall coloring page for a chance to win a prize! We are holding a coloring contest for co-op kids, 10 years and under. Download the coloring sheet here.

Please mail in your completed coloring sheet or email a photo of the completed masterpiece to mbrservices@toddwadena.coop by October 26th, 2020.

 

 

Addressing California Blackouts // CEO Column October 2020

At the end of the summer, a record-breaking heat wave hit California causing the state’s three biggest utilities to cut power to hundreds of thousands of homes and businesses for about an hour at a time. I’ve received questions from our members asking if this type of situation could occur in our state, and I’d like to share the response Great River Energy’s President & CEO David Saggau issued recently.

Saggau addresses some key differences between California and Minnesota and emphasizes the strength of the Midcontinent Independent System Operator (MISO) electricity market. Great River Energy, Todd-Wadena Electric Cooperative’s wholesale power provider, has been a MISO market participant since 2005.

Daniel Carlisle, TWEC President/CEO


Rolling blackouts in California have been making headlines and sparking questions across the country, particularly in regions such as the Midwest that are seeing rapid renewable energy growth. Great River Energy and many of our member-owners are receiving the same question: “Could this happen here?”

There is a fundamental difference between California and Minnesota that makes our situations quite different: California’s dependence on solar energy. Rolling blackouts are occurring shortly after sundown when solar resources stop generating while temperatures remain high and air conditioner use continues. Solar energy makes up a very small percentage of the generating resources in MISO, so the region does not experience sharp drop-offs in energy production associated with widespread reliance on solar generating resources.

As a member of MISO, we must have sufficient generating capacity to meet our members’ peak load plus reserves. Great River Energy’s generating capacity is, and will always be, more than sufficient to provide reliable service and meet MISO requirements.

We have a fleet of modern natural gas plants in Minnesota that provide all-hours reliability. Most of these plants have on-site backup fuels. We have also built new transmission across the region to ensure energy can be delivered to our members. And, in partnership with member-owner cooperatives, we have developed one of the country’s most robust demand response programs which allows us to effectively reduce electric loads during extreme conditions.

Great River Energy has the resources we need to ensure reliable electricity for our members.

David Saggau, Great River Energy President & CEO

The Cooperative Difference

Twenty-four years ago, a member of Todd-Wadena Electric Cooperative called to ask if he could put my name on the ballot to serve as cooperative director and I said, “No.” I had other things to do, other interests, and thought it would take too much time. He could have accepted that answer and hung up the phone, but he did not. He spent the next hour talking to me about the cooperative and the need to be involved. He would not accept my answer of “no.”

In the 1940s, when rural America wanted electricity and the power companies with a profit motive rather than service motive said “no,” that answer was also not accepted. It was during this time that our nation’s electric cooperatives were formed. Neighbors started talking to neighbors about not only signing up for power, but helping to build lines.

An early cooperative from which we get some of our guiding principles started in Rochdale, England in 1844. They wanted better than the company store that kept them in debt and provided inferior products – products with fillers that would increase weight and profit but reduce quality. The customers would not accept that situation, so they started a store with five items: butter, sugar, flour, oatmeal, and candles. They were soon known for their high-quality products. Those founding members were visionaries who put quality service, and betterment of society, ahead of profits.

For a close-to-home example of the cooperative advantage, I need go no further than my local phone company West Central Telephone. Years ago, West Central brought fiber optic cable to homes in their service area – including mine. Our internet service was, and still is, far superior to that provided only a few miles away by the for-profit companies. Some of you are currently looking forward to being connected to that improved service that they provide, as they expand outside their original service territory. That small phone company out of Sebeka would not accept the service quality provided by others and set out to be better.

October is National Cooperative Month, a time to reflect on the many cooperative businesses in the community that provide us services with a different business model – one that is more about service than profit and focuses on giving back to the community.

Here at Todd-Wadena Electric Cooperative, our Operation Round Up program is just one example of a service that provides financial support to many service groups in our communities. By electing our board members from among our membership, we also support the cooperative principle of democratic member control. This means people from within our community are responsible for making decisions about how the cooperative is run.

So, let’s say “yes” to cooperatives that strive to improve our communities!

Dale Adams // TWEC Board Treasurer

New Headquarters will be Served by TWEC // CEO Column September 2020

After months of hard work, we are nearing the end of construction on Todd-Wadena Electric Cooperative’s new headquarters building. In conjunction with building the new facility, we took a look at all possible efficiencies and changes in operations.

One efficiency that was evident was a decision to provide our own electric service for the building, rather than continuing to receive our electric service from the City of Wadena. Extensive research has revealed that TWEC will be able to save our members money by serving ourselves. 

Todd-Wadena’s right to make this decision is protected by Minnesota Statute 216B.40 – Exclusive Service Right; Service Extension. The statute allows for this type of extension “…if the extension is necessary to facilitate the electric utility connecting its facilities…”

Through our power supplier, Great River Energy (GRE), TWEC is able to enroll in an interruptible rate. An interruptible rate can offer significant rate savings because the member agrees that GRE can control the load during energy peaking times. By shaving energy use during the peak time when it is most expensive, GRE can purchase energy at much lower prices. This results in lower rates. Enrolling in the interruptible rate for our new headquarters building results in a rate that is nearly half of what TWEC currently pays to power our facility. 

The significant savings an interruptible rate will provide guided our decision to invest in our own distribution line to our headquarters. Approximately one mile of underground line will run from a line connected to our Hewitt substation to the new headquarters building. The installation of this line will allow Todd-Wadena to begin serving our own energy needs. We also purchased a generator to serve as a back-up power source to ensure reliable service and to make the interruptible rate possible.

Throughout the construction process, we continue to look for ways to serve our members as safely and efficiently as possible. We are thankful for the opportunity to save our members money and are looking forward to serving our own energy needs at the new headquarters building.

Your Co-op’s Service Territory Rights // CEO Column August 2020

One data metric rural electric cooperative managers look at is “line density.” The number of members per mile of electric line is significant because the more members that exist, the cheaper it is for each member to pay for construction and maintenance of the electric distribution line and related operations costs. Simply stated, the costs can be spread out among more members. The average electric co-op in Minnesota has 6.6 members per mile of electric line, with all other utilities (including investor-owned and municipal services) averaging 32 customers per mile of line.

Todd-Wadena Electric Cooperative averages just under 4 members per mile of electric line. In Minnesota, like many states, electric service territories have been assigned to the various investor-owned, municipal, and rural electric cooperative utilities. These territories are marked on maps that are maintained at the State Public Utility Commission office in St. Paul. A series of statutes purport to protect these service territories by preventing another utility from entering one’s protected territory and serving customers. The reasoning behind this approach is to encourage the development of a reliable electric system and to avoid the cost of duplication of poles, wires, and related infrastructure (and the cost thereof, which would be passed on to the consumer). Certain notable exceptions exist in the statutes.

One exception to the exclusive service territory rule is known as the municipal annexation exception. Found at Minn. Stat. 216B.44, this statute allows a municipality to annex, or “take,” certain electric service territory from a rural electric cooperative. No similar statute exists to allow a rural electric co-op to annex or take service territory from a municipality. As a result, rural electric cooperatives are somewhat defenseless if a municipality decides it wants to take over parts of a co-op’s service territory. Recent history has shown that municipalities have exercised their statutory power of service territory annexation in situations where the rural electric cooperative has developed successful, profitable electric loads or in areas where future positive growth is imminent. The result of municipal annexation is that a cooperative’s ability to grow and to improve the line density metric, for the benefit of all of its members, has been greatly impacted.

Fortunately, the applicable statutes do have one mode of protection built in for the utility that is having its territory and prime electric load taken. Minn. Stat. 216B.44 requires the municipality to pay the losing utility damages for its loss. This statute sets forth a 4-Prong damage calculation that usually ends up focusing primarily on the depreciated cost of the infrastructure being lost and loss of revenue for an appropriate period of time. Interpretation of this statute and the appropriate calculation of damages has led to much litigation during the past few decades between municipalities and rural electric cooperatives. Efforts to find a legislative fix to this inequitable law in the urban-controlled legislature, has proven to be unsuccessful in recent years.

Last fall/winter, Tri-County Hospital announced plans to build a new hospital campus on the outskirts of Wadena. The land they were targeting fell partially within Todd-Wadena Electric Cooperative’s protected service territory and a portion was within the City’s service territory. The City expressed its intent to annex our rural electric cooperative’s service territory in this area. Since then, the City and Todd-Wadena Electric Cooperative have each retained separate legal counsel and expert witnesses to analyze the appropriate damage compensation due to the co-op for loss of this service opportunity. At some point, this issue will likely be reported in the local news and it is hard to predict the degree of accuracy that will be associated with the reporting. Rest assured that management and the Board of Directors at Todd-Wadena Electric Cooperative are committed to ensuring that the statutory damage formula is followed and that the best interest of our members is reflected in this damage payment.

Losing service territory and failing to improve line density is one of the challenges that we face in operating a rural electric cooperative. We will do everything we can to protect the interests of our co-op members against this and other challenges.

First ‘Sota Grown Harvest Anticipated in October

By the beginning of October, a harvest of kale will be ready from the ‘Sota Grown hydroponic container in Staples, MN. This first harvest will provide fresh, locally-grown produce for families throughout the region.

The ‘Sota Grown initiative is a collaborative indoor agriculture project between Todd-Wadena Electric Cooperative, Central Lakes College (CLC), Lakewood Health System, Great River Energy, and the Electric Power Research Institute. The fully enclosed hydroponic container, located on the CLC campus in Staples, utilizes technology to make it easy to supply local, year-round, fresh, sustainably grown food. The hydroponic container provides valuable educational opportunities for CLC students and intern volunteers. 

Kale seedlings were first planted in the container on June 11th and germinated June 16th. After three weeks, the seedlings were large enough to be transplanted from seedling troughs into the vertical growing panels in the container. The plants will remain vertical through harvesting, during which only the leaves are harvested, leaving the base of the plants so the kale can continue growing.

Once harvested, the kale will be delivered to Lakewood Health and contribute to Lakewood Engage, a series of initiatives to promote health. These local food-access initiatives provide healthy food options to more than 600 people in our community each month. They aim to increase access to safe, nutritious, and affordable food – addressing hunger-health disparities throughout the federally designated food desert region.

In addition to providing food for our community, this collaborative project will help gather important data for load forecasting, rate design, and the future expansion of not only Minnesota’s indoor agriculture industry, but across the nation. It is one of 11 shipping container pods set up around the country to learn more about sustainable, year-round food production. Todd-Wadena is excited to play an important role in researching and developing this innovative approach to farming and feeding our community.

 

Serving You During COVID-19 // CEO Column July 2020

Cooperatives are based upon principles – seven, to be exact. The seventh principle is Concern for Community. Today, this is as important as ever as our community deals with the economic impact of COVID-19. Todd-Wadena Electric Cooperative is working diligently to continue to maintain safe, reliable electric service and to keep rates low. Here are a few ways your cooperative is serving you during this challenging time:

  • TWEC Member Services and Finance Department employees have continued to work, albeit remotely for a period of time, to serve our members with quality service. They are processing billing statements and payments in a timely manner and providing our member services offerings. TWEC’s Operations Department is out in the field daily to quickly act to restore power and provide operational support for construction work plans, new services, and routine maintenance of our distribution plant.
  • TWEC suspended disconnects and penalty fees for over three months to help our members who are struggling to pay their electric bills. Our Finance Department is working hard to contact members and find a way to resolve arrearages for each member’s individual situation.
  • We offer several energy saving programs to help members save money each month. By opting into our dual fuel, interruptible air conditioning, or water heating programs, you can reduce the amount of energy you use. In addition to energy efficiency, these programs offer savings on your energy rate that will save you money on your electric bill.
  • Residential rebate programs are available with the purchase of new higher efficiency appliances, such as refrigerators, dryers, air source heat pumps, or electric heating systems, which also results in savings on a monthly basis.
  • We did work very closely with fuel assistance agencies to ensure those who needed help paying their bills were able to receive funds that the state set aside for this purpose. Please visit our website to find the appropriate agency for your county.

Rest assured that we will continue to serve our members during this difficult time and into the future. Our lineworkers are out in the field daily, and our staff is available to help members. It is our pleasure to continue to provide you with excellent service in all circumstances.

This is The Cooperative Difference. Todd-Wadena is owned by those we serve – our members. The Cooperative’s Board and staff focus on the local needs of our members and our communities. Our number one goal is to provide safe, reliable, and affordable electricity to our members.

Concern for Community

By Marie Katterhagen

Cooperatives are based on seven guiding principles. The seventh principle is Concern for Community, defined as contributing to the sustainable development of our community. At Todd-Wadena Electric Cooperative (TWEC), this is evident at many levels. A primary example is Operation Round Up, where members choose to have their electric bills rounded up to the nearest dollar and the money is distributed by a Trust Board to support local community projects and organizations. TWEC is also active with its own Economic Development program, in addition to supporting other local programs to help give opportunity for development in our territory.

Concern for Community comes in all forms of volunteering and helping our neighbors near and far. Personally, last January I completed my ninth surgical mission trip to the mountainous regions of Guatemala to provide medical care to indigenous people who have no access to medical care.

It takes two days to travel to the abandoned facility where we set up our surgical area, with three to four surgeries going on in one room. All the tables, sterilizers, instruments, and beds are trucked up with us. People are lined up on the roads for days hoping for a chance to get themselves or their families needed medical care and greet us as we arrive!

During our five days at the facility, we touch the lives of close to 2,000 medically through surgery, dental, and medical clinic teams. The dental and medical teams also go out into the villages and set up clinics. We complete approximately 130+ surgeries during this time. It is humbling to assist with routine cases, taken for granted in the U.S., that are lifesaving procedures in Guatemala. Patients sit in a “waiting room” in the hallway knowing they may be there from morning to night waiting their turn, yet they don’t complain and only show gratitude. It is heart wrenching to watch them enter the operating room and pray to their God and over our hands; and then put their trust in foreigners. We are blessed to live in a country where there is easy access to medical care.

We also have a stove team that installs self-contained wood stoves with chimneys. These replace the open pit fires many Guatemalans have in their homes. They help reduce burns, especially to the children. The stoves also reduce carbon exposure in the homes, which helps improve life expectancy. In Guatemala, it is common to spend much of the day gathering wood. Approximately 120 stoves are installed each trip, reducing the amount of wood needed by 60 percent. Our stove teams are the proudest when they can say they created carbon-free homes and a smoke-free village in our world.

As a member of Todd-Wadena Electric Cooperative, the seventh cooperative principle applies to all of us. Concern for Community is evident in how our TWEC directors and staff are actively involved in the betterment of our community. Opportunities to serve are everywhere and the rewards are endless. I would encourage you to always be open to the opportunities in front of you.

For more information on Guatemala, visit www.helpsintl.org.

Coal Creek Closure // CEO Column June 2020

Todd-Wadena Electric Cooperative’s wholesale power provider, Great River Energy (GRE), recently announced plans to transform its portfolio of power supply resources in the coming years. One element of this includes the retirement of the 1,151-megawatt Coal Creek Station power plant in the second half of 2022.

As part of the plan to increase economic efficiencies, GRE plans to phase out remaining coal resources, add significant renewable energy, and explore critical grid-scale battery technology. Each of these steps is an important part of GRE’s plan to significantly reduce member-owner wholesale power costs, while taking advantage of cost-competitive renewables and reliable access to market energy.

Although the decision to close Coal Creek Station will have a dramatic impact on the North Dakota communities that rely upon it for employment and economic benefits, the decision ultimately came down to what was in the long-term best interest of GRE’s member-owner cooperatives such as Todd-Wadena Electric Cooperative. To continue to pay for the plant’s losses each year, when there was a practical alternative available, ultimately led to the decision to close Coal Creek.

Despite what you might read or hear from some news sources, GRE did put a lot of thought into this decision and has made every effort to be transparent, honest, and fair with the communities in North Dakota that are affected the most. This includes voluntarily making payments to these communities for several years after the plant closes, to relieve some of the immediate impact of lost tax revenue.

Great River Energy’s portfolio changes will significantly reduce its power supply costs. The new power supply plan takes into consideration affordability, reliability, and environmental stewardship – three necessary components to ensure GRE’s member-owner electric cooperatives, like Todd-Wadena Electric Cooperative, are well positioned for the future.

 

A Historical Perspective // CEO Column March 2020

Since Todd-Wadena Electric Cooperative was formed in 1940, there have been many changes. Our first substation was energized in 1941 with a capacity of 450 kilowatts, serving 170 members. At this time, the TWEC headquarters was on Jefferson Street in Wadena. Growth required TWEC to build a new facility in 1949 when we moved to the location we reside in now. An addition to the office was built in 1980 as we grew to 5,600 members.

Today, TWEC serves over 8,900 member services and maintains approximately 2,250 miles of power lines. We operate 14 substations and our system peak demand was 47.9 megawatts in 2019.

Power Supply

Beginning in 1940, TWEC purchased its power from MN Power & Light Company. In 1965, TWEC changed from MN Power & Light Company to Cooperative Power for its power needs. In the year 2000, Cooperative Power became Great River Energy–whom we still receive the majority of our power from today.

Value

Throughout the years, GRE and TWEC have focused on making energy a great value for our members. The cost of powering your home has risen at a much slower pace compared to rent/mortgages, cable TV, or even education. Despite many successful efficiency upgrades, the average household needs more power to operate electronics every year. With electricity being both affordable and abundant, it can be easy to take it for granted. Despite increased use and value in our daily lives, you can see in this graph how the cost of electricity has remained relatively flat.

In May 1944, the average electricity bill was $5.07. When you figure in inflation, the equivalent would be an average bill of $73.65 today. While that may seem low compared to your average 2019 bill, there are other factors to consider. Back in 1944, the average consumption was 93 kWh. Today, average consumption is more than 1,400 kWhs per month. This means our members use 15 times more electricity at only two times the cost compared to 1944. That is affordable electricity!

As you can see, there have been many changes in the past and there will be many in the future. However, through all the change there is a constant: Todd-Wadena Electric Cooperative. We will always be here to be of great value to our members and to responsibly provide safe, reliable, and affordable utility services.