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.

 

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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.

 

Emergency Energy-Assistance Funds Are Available

Emergency energy-assistance funds are available. You must apply by July 1, 2020 and it’s first come first served. Call your local agency to see the program details.

Energy Assistance, by county:
Becker, Hubbard, Otter Tail & Wadena
(Mahube OTWA)
218-847-1385 or 888-458-1385 (Detroit Lakes)
218-739-3011 (Fergus Falls)
218-632-3600 (Wadena)
218-732-7204 (Park Rapids)

Cass (Bi-Cap)
218-547-3438 or 800-332-7135 (Walker)
218-751-4631 or 800-332-7161 (Bemidji)
 
Douglas (West Central Communities Action)
218-685-4486 or 800-492-4805
                      
Morrison (Tri-County)
320-251-1612 or 888-765-5597 
              
Todd
320-732-4516 or 888-838-4066

We’ve Pumped Up Our Rebates!

Air Source Heat Pump Promotions runs May 1, 2020-July 31, 2020

Ducted ASHP                                 2020 Promotion (May 1- July 31, 2020)

Required HSPF Level > 8.2               $1,000

Required HSPF Level > 9.0               $2,000

*Ducted ASHP must be installed by a quality installer. *

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ductless ASHP                             2020 Promotion (May 1- July 31, 2020)

Delivered fuel* > 9.0 HSPF             $450

Electric heat** > 9.0 HSPF               $750

*Member’s main heat source is fuel oil, propane, or natural gas.

 **Member’s main heat source is electric.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Heat Pumps may be the most efficient heating AND cooling systems available. That’s because they take the heat energy that is present in the air or in the earth and simply move it indoors. In the summer, they work in reverse, moving the warm air out of your home, keeping it cool and comfortable all summer long.

Air source heat pumps work by  transferring heat from outdoor air into you home. They are up to 300 percent efficient down to an outdoor air temperature of 26 degrees Fahrenheit, offering an alternative for your spring and fall heating.

For more information on rebates, contact the office at 218-631-3120 or 800-321-8932.

Todd-Wadena Electric Cooperative to Construct New Headquarters

Wadena, MN, April 9, 2020- Todd-Wadena Electric Cooperative (TWEC) Board of Directors unanimously voted to construct a new headquarters building at their Board Meeting on March 26th, 2020. The Cooperative has operated from its current facility since it was constructed in 1949, with an office addition built in the 1980s.

The decision comes in response to intense study and planning with appropriate experts to evaluate TWEC’s needs and possible solutions to determine the state of the building, which has served the Cooperative for 71 years. The evaluation examined the building’s structure, sustainability, building needs, building inefficiencies and recurrent flooding issues.

The current facility offers little insulation, no ventilation, and an inefficient HVAC system. The square footage of the facility is inefficient for office workflow. “As our current headquarters have served us well for the last 71 years, the Board realizes it is cost prohibitive to carry us for the next 71 years,” said Miles Kuschel, TWEC Board Chair.

The Board of Directors are working with Contegrity Group- a construction management company based out of Little Falls, MN. The architects have developed designs and specifications based on input from TWEC. The final bids selected came to a total price just over $2.7M, which was just below the Cooperative’s estimated $3M project cost. The project will not affect members’ rates.

“This decision has been given a vast amount of thought and due process over the years while taking into consideration the needs of our members and staff,” said Kuschel.

The new headquarters will boast hands-on displays for members to learn about energy efficiency, rebates, and overall ways to interact with the Cooperative. A small conference room will also be available in a private and comfortable setting where members can meet with TWEC staff.

Todd-Wadena Electric Cooperative (TWEC) is a not-for profit distribution cooperative that is owned and controlled by the members they serve. TWEC is located in Wadena, has 8,900 member services in place with approximately 2,250 miles of line. TWEC’s service territory includes a majority of the rural areas of Todd and Wadena counties along with portions of Becker, Cass, Douglas, Hubbard, Ottertail and Morrison counties.

COVID-19 Update

Todd-Wadena Electric Cooperative COVID-19 Response

March 17, 2020- The Coronavirus (COVID-19) has been declared a Global Pandemic by the World Heath Organization. The President of the United States and Minnesota’s Governor have declared a state of emergency.

Todd-Wadena Electric Cooperative’s office will be closed to the public effective March 18th until further notice. We will not allow access to the general public, vendors or unauthorized personnel, to ensure that we keep our employees and members healthy and safe. Todd-Wadena Electric Cooperative is proactively taking steps to protect employees’ health and safety to preserve our ability to maintain essential services to our members.

“TWEC is committed to deliver safe, reliable, and affordable electric service to our members, and we need our employees to be healthy and safe to do so,” said Dan Carlisle, President/CEO of Todd-Wadena Electric Cooperative.

Line workers will continue to respond to power outages as they arise. If a home visit is required for a TWEC employee, a few additional questions may be asked prior to their visit. “Please be patient with our crews as they perform their duties. These extra precautions are being made for the safety of members and employees,” said Carlisle.

For members who typically make your payments in person, please utilize the drop box located in front of our office. Members can also make a payment by phone through the Interactive Voice Response (IVR) line at 877-999-3398. Additional payment options include by mail, or online through SmartHub.

Todd-Wadena Electric Cooperative (TWEC) is a not-for profit distribution cooperative that is owned and controlled by the members they serve. TWEC is located in Wadena, has 8,900 member services in place with approximately 2,250 miles of line. TWEC’s service territory includes a majority of the rural areas of Todd and Wadena counties along with portions of Becker, Cass, Douglas, Hubbard, Ottertail and Morrison counties.