A TWEC Board Member’s Perspective // Tom Brichacek February 2020

Headquarters Building

Tom Brichacek TWEC Board Vice Chair

Tom Brichacek
TWEC Board Vice Chair

When I was elected to the Board of Directors in 2012, my first meeting there was a presentation on the needs of our headquarters building. In the presentation, there were multiple deficiencies with our current building that were brought up. After that presentation, a building committee was formed to look into possible solutions for the issues.

Throughout 2012 and 2013, we researched, received bids, and evaluated the use of our members’ money versus the gains to the building. The committee came to the conclusion that putting that much money remodeling a 1940s building didn’t make economic sense.

Moving into 2014, we researched the cost of a new headquarters building and it was concluded that building new versus remodeling made more long-term sense. But the Board felt there were other more pressing items that needed our funds, so we shelved the project at that point.

This year, with no substations being built and no major construction projects on the docket the board felt we were in a good position to bring the headquarters project back up again. We reviewed the past documents and plans and came to the same conclusion we did in 2014, that a remodel wasn’t the best use of our members’ money. We are currently working on updating the plans that were drawn in 2014 to reflect our current needs, and then we will send those plans out for contractor bids.

Our CFO has been working on the funding sources we will need to complete the project. The Board feels strongly that raising our members’ electric rates cannot and will not be a component of the funding for the building. We have also increased the deprecation of the existing building, so there will not be any remaining equity when the time comes to remove it. Once we receive the bids back, we will review the bids to determine the cost for a new building. We will then make the final decision to move forward or not. Rest assured, we are working hard to ensure we are doing what is best for our membership.

 

Legislation

An important component of being on the Board of Directors at Todd-Wadena Electric Cooperative is keeping up with the bills being proposed in the State and Federal Legislature. Some of the proposed bills would have an impact on the way cooperatives do business, or affect the cost of providing electric service to our members. As directors, we meet with our legislators to lend our point of view to the bills and their impact on our member-owners.

One example of our work on your behalf happened last year. There was an unintended consequence of the 2017 tax reform law that was passed that would have threatened cooperatives’ tax exempt status if we accepted grants or federal disaster relief funds. Last September, TWEC CEO Dan Carlisle and I traveled to Washington, D.C. with other electric cooperative directors and CEOs from across the state to meet with our elected Representatives and Senators to discuss the impact of this law on our local cooperatives. We made real progress with all of the Minnesota legislators (except Representative Omar) signing onto or co-sponsoring the RURAL act to fix this issue. It was signed into law by President Trump in mid-December, saving cooperatives and, in turn, their members, across the nation from suffering the effects of the varied tax implications.

Your elected Board of Directors works with the employees of the Cooperative to ensure safe, reliable and affordable power reaches your homes.

Tom Brichacek
TWEC Board Vice Chair

Load Management // CEO Column February 2020

Photo of Dan Carlisle

Daniel Carlisle
President/CEO

We are always looking for ways to help our members save energy and money. Todd-Wadena Electric Cooperative uses programs and incentives to promote the use of electricity during off-peak hours—when it costs less. We do this through a process called load management.

Load management refers to a system that matches electricity supply with demand. Think of the electrical grid as a highway with rush hours at certain times (such as hot summer afternoons) when power supplies are stretched to their capacity. These periods of high demand cause spikes in power costs. Load management allows us to adjust participating members’ usage patterns to a different time, reducing the strain on an overloaded system.

Our power supplier, Great River Energy (GRE), determines when a control event will take place. By monitoring conditions over their entire system, as well as the price of electricity on the energy market, they control the load when it is most beneficial to members. GRE is able to purchase off-peak energy at a lower cost, generating savings which TWEC, in turn, can pass on to our members.

TWEC has load management programs for irrigation, dual fuel, water heaters, and commercial/industrial accounts that enroll. Control is managed with demand response units installed at members’ locations. These units listen for commands and control when needed. Currently we use radio frequency (RF) demand response units, which means the commands to control the system are sent via a radio frequency. This method has issues as commands are sometimes not received due to largely forested areas, remote fields, or weather conditions. A newer method for sending commands is now available via power line carrier (PLC) demand response units. Here the commands travel through the power line, just like electricity, so the error percentage is significantly decreased.

In 2020, TWEC will be conducting a pilot program installing 100 PLC units, which will utilize this new and improved technology. If everything goes as planned, in 2021, we will roll out a full change out of all receivers – over 5,000 units. With a lower error rate, we can increase savings during times of high demand for electricity. These savings are then passed on to our members.

Daniel Carlisle
President/CEO

Our ‘Sota Grown Indoor Food Production Container has Arrived!

Last year, Todd-Wadena Electric Cooperative was selected by our power supplier, Great River Energy (GRE), to be the host of a hydroponic indoor food production container in our service territory. This national research project is being conducted by the Electrical Power Research Institute (EPRI).

Picture of Allison and Greg taking a look at the internal control unit.

Allison and Greg taking a look at the internal control unit.

On January 15th, the ‘Sota Grown agricultural pod finally arrived to its home at the Ag and Energy Center at Central Lakes College (CLC) in Staples. The keys were passed from GRE to TWEC and then to the host, CLC. We have partnered with the Ag and Energy Center to give students the unique opportunity to learn firsthand about sustainable agricultural practices by maintaining and harvesting the produce.

Lakewood Health System is also another member of the project team and will receive the produce that is grown to use in their “Food Farmacy” program. This program works to address hunger/health disparities and is designed to connect families with healthy food options.

This project will gather useful data for the future expansion of Minnesota’s indoor agriculture industry. This hydroponic system is built entirely inside a shipping container. It will provide valuable data for utilities—allowing analysis of the electric load required to operate in our region. A wide range of operation parameters will be monitored to determine how Minnesota’s outdoor climate impacts energy consumption.GRE and TWEC will use this data for electricity load planning and evaluating beneficial rate designs.

TWEC is excited for this community project and grateful to be working with our local partners, Central Lakes College and Lakewood Health System. This project not only benefits the utility industry but the entire community.

'Sota Grown is installed.

Wadena Boy Scouts Troop 54 Wins Award

Todd-Wadena Electric Cooperative (TWEC) names Wadena Boy Scouts Troop 54 as the winner of the 2019 Touchstone Energy Community Award. The Wadena Boy Scouts received $500 to be used towards their community projects.

Boy Scouts provides young men and women an opportunity to obtain leadership skills and offers life-long learning skills to participants. These skills include, but are not limited to: first aid, lifesaving skills, emergency preparedness, canoeing, money management, personal fitness, and more.

“The Wadena Boy Scouts Troop 54 demonstrates a strong commitment to community and to the youth that we at TWEC value highly,” said Allison Uselman, Member Services Manager. “We are very pleased to recognize their contributions to our local communities and schools.”

Todd-Wadena Electric Cooperative sought candidates for the Touchstone Energy Community Award, which recognizes organizations for outstanding contributions to the local community. “This area is blessed with many organizations that are doing wonderful things to better our community,” Allison Uselman said. “We are pleased that as a Minnesota Touchstone Energy cooperative, we have this opportunity to recognize those who impact our community in a positive way.”

Wadena Boy Scouts Troop 54 award application has been submitted for consideration in the statewide Minnesota Touchstone Energy Community Award. The statewide award recipient will be selected from local award winners from around Minnesota. The winning organization will receive $1,000 to go toward their community cause. The Minnesota Touchstone Energy Community Award will be presented to the award recipient in February, during the Minnesota Rural Electric Association’s annual meeting in St. Paul.

Wadena Boy Scouts Troop 54 receives Touchstone Energy Award. Back L to R: Nate Tabery, Anna-Marie Tabery, Gaven Walz, Ben Keppers, Bob Keppers. Front L to R: Tony Slipp, Colby Schmid, Joshua Tabery, Jacob Hoppe.

 

Four-Year Work Plans

Photo of Dan Carlisle

Daniel Carlisle
President/CEO

Here at Todd-Wadena, our crews work year-round to provide members with safe, reliable, and affordable electricity. To accomplish the wide range of projects we face in any given year, we operate on four-year work plans.

These work plans, designed in large part by our electrical engineers, help us determine what needs to get accomplished each year. Tasks such as replacing undersized transformers, identifying and replacing old poles, and building new lines are all planned out in advance. This allows us to make sure we have necessary items such as the correct amount and type of poles in inventory, cement pads poured and ready to use, and the proper hardware required by Rural Utilities Service (RUS) for each pole assembly.

According to the 2016 Load Forecast and historical patterns, TWEC anticipated extending service to 373 new residential consumer locations during 2017-2020. The service extension cost for the 2017-2020 period was estimated at $492,000. During this same four-year period, we anticipated 480 service capacity increases, with an estimated cost of $800,000.

The four-year plan we are currently operating under also outlines recommended distribution line projects. This work plan calls for the building and replacement of 45.31 miles of line due to growth on the system, adding back feed capability between substations, and replacing old lines that have reached the end of their useful life. Also planned is 1.10 miles of new tie lines to address growth on TWEC’s distribution system.

The Blueberry Substation was also included in the construction work plan period, replacing Todd-Wadena’s former Menahga Substation. This new substation improved electrical service reliability in the Menahga area. Todd-Wadena co-located the Blueberry Substation with Great River Energy’s new transmission substation.
In addition to these projects, our crews stay busy with line patrol, vegetation management, and a variety of other responsibilities around our system. We appreciate the hard work they put in to make sure our members have reliable power. Please respect our crews and help keep them safe by pulling over and giving them adequate working space.

Happy New Year!

Building Goals for TWEC

As we continue to look into the possibility of a new headquarters building for Todd-Wadena Electric Cooperative, we are first and foremost concerned with how to best serve our membership. This means taking time to assess both the current and future needs of our cooperative.

Just as TWEC’s Board of Directors has a responsibility to maintain and enhance the co-op’s electrical distribution system, the Board is also responsible for maintaining and enhancing the facilities that serve the membership. Both are crucial to the long-term success of Todd-Wadena.

To further pursue the possibility of a new headquarters building, Todd-Wadena is working with Contegrity Group — a construction management company based out of Little Falls, Minnesota. Architects will develop designs and specifications based on input received from TWEC. A building committee, comprised of TWEC board members, CEO Dan Carlisle, and co-op employees, will then review building plans and offer feedback to help determine the most efficient design.

Once Todd-Wadena has the blueprint and specifications fully prepared, the Cooperative will send out for bids. The goal is to utilize as many local contractors as possible. If the bids received are within our budget range, the Board will then move forward with construction on a new headquarters building.

If we move forward with a building project, one of the primary goals will be to offer members new opportunities to be involved with the Cooperative. We would have hands-on displays to learn about energy efficiency, rebates, and overall ways to interact with the Cooperative. Another goal is making sure we can conduct business in the most efficient way possible. A small conference room is being included in the design to provide a private and comfortable setting where members can meet with us. Equally important is providing a safer and more productive environment for employees and members.

As we take these important steps over the next few months, we will keep our members informed throughout the process. We appreciate your support as we plan today for the future of Todd-Wadena Electric Cooperative.

New Headquarters Blueprint

Highlights from 2019 — CEO Column December 2019

Daniel Carlisle
President/CEO

As we near the end of 2019, it is an excellent time to reflect on the past year and think about changes coming in 2020. I am pleased to report that 2019 was a very successful year for Todd-Wadena Electric Cooperative. To date, we have experienced zero lost time accidents and have continued to train and grow our talented group of employees.

Operationally, we were able to maintain a low outage count even with two large storms this summer and the cold winter. Crews completed 113 new services, 36 service changes, 6.5 miles of new overhead line, 2 miles of underground line, and approximately 100 pole changes.

Other highlights from the past year include:

  • Being selected as the recipient for the Indoor Food Production container research project from Great River Energy (GRE) and Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI).
  • Receiving the Meritorious Achievement Award presented by the Minnesota Safety Council.
  • Returning capital credits to our member-owners for over 50 years. This year, the amount returned is approximately $690,000, which is the amount budgeted prior to fiscal 2019.
  • Announcing new, affordable storage and time of use rates for electric vehicles (EVs), as well as offering an EV charging rebate and the Revolt program.
  • Holding TWEC’s first EV Ride and Drive event. Over 90 members drove or rode in an electric vehicle.
  • Achieving a satisfaction score of 87 on the member survey conducted by the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA). This score places us well above the average score (74) for a Touchstone Energy cooperative.
  • Initiating a community ambassador program. We had 11 employees volunteer for a total of 56 hours to support local organizations.

Looking forward to 2020, we are planning several new opportunities for youth. In addition to our annual Youth Tour trip to Washington, D.C., we are bringing TWEC’s existing scholarships in house and will be awarding six scholarships to graduating seniors at our Annual Meeting. A new offering next year is TWEC’s Power Up Non-Traditional Scholarship. This scholarship is awarded to adults finishing or going back to school. The scholarships are made available with unclaimed capital credits.

As always, we will continue to look into new services and technology to best serve our membership during the coming year. The future is bright for Todd-Wadena Electric Cooperative!

Headquarters Under Consideration

Todd-Wadena Electric Cooperative was incorporated in 1940 by a small but dedicated group of people committed to bringing power to our rural area and improving the lives of their friends and neighbors. By 1949, the Cooperative’s growth necessitated a move to our current headquarters building.

The original building, which was constructed in 1949, served roughly 3,000 members. With a growth in membership in 1980 to 5,600, an addition was completed to expand the office and garage. Today, TWEC includes more than 8,900 member services, just under 12,000 meters, who are served by approximately 2,250 miles of power lines. We have continued to operate out of the same facility since 1949.

As we near Todd-Wadena Electric Cooperative’s 80th year of serving our community, the need for improvements to our facility is evident in order to take our Cooperative into the next 80 years. Our current headquarters building lacks several important features required to ensure a safe, secure, and efficient workplace.

TWEC’s Board of Directors and staff have been working together to carefully evaluate the condition of the existing building and determine the most cost-effective solution to remedy the deficiencies identified in the facility. This decision is not being taken lightly nor quickly. TWEC staff and the board of directors began this process in 2012 when they identified the future need. There has been intense study and planning with appropriate experts to evaluate TWEC’s needs and possible solutions. In addition to considering the current state of the building, they are also evaluating what TWEC will require to continue to effectively serve our community and membership well into the future.

As all buildings do over time, the building has started to deteriorate. It offers very little insulation, no ventilation, and an extremely inefficient HVAC system. The square footage of the facility is unproductive and is greater than what is needed, resulting in another inefficiency. Additionally, no solid solution has been identified for recurrent flooding issues.

After significant research and partnering with many experts, it has been decided that the configuration of TWEC’s headquarters building does not allow for a workable, affordable remodel, therefore a rebuild is under consideration. As a not-for-profit, member-owned utility, our members’ needs, concerns, and equity are always front of mind as we make any decisions related to the future of your Cooperative. We are committed to serving the needs of our local community and our membership.

For 80 years, TWEC has upheld its same mission of providing safe, reliable, and affordable power for our members. Evaluating the need for a new headquarters building is an important step in making sure we are able to continue on in our mission — serving our members effectively and efficiently for years to come.

TWEC Headquarters in 1949.

Capital Credit Checks Going Out to Members Mid-December

Members earn capital credits each year based on their patronage—the more electricity purchased, the higher the allocation of capital credits. 

Each year, the cooperative’s board of directors makes a decision on whether to retire old capital credits based on the financial health of the cooperative and provision of the by-laws. In the past 10 years, Todd-Wadena Electric Cooperative has retired over $4.8 million to members. 

This year, Todd-Wadena Electric Cooperative’s Board of Directors approved retiring $690,000 of capital credits for the years of 2003, 2004, and a portion of 2005; and for the first time since its inception, Great River Energy (GRE) will retire capital credits to Todd-Wadena Electric Cooperative and thus our members. A retirement of $160,000 of capital credits will be refunded to TWEC members who had patronage for the years of 1980-1984. 

A combined capital credit refund check will be mailed out to eligible members in mid-December.

Using Portable Space Heaters Wisely

Electric space heaters can be a convenient heating supplement when used periodically to take the chill off a blustery day. However, they become increasingly ineffective for heating as the space gets larger. They can also be much more expensive to operate long-term as they are not eligible for lower, off-peak kWh pricing. 

Estimating the Cost of Running a Space Heater
We used TWEC’s Kill-A-Watt meter to figure out how many kWhs our space heater was using. Our heater used 1,500 watts on the high setting. To calculate our usage we used this formula: Watts/1,000 x Hours = kWh usage. We wanted to know the cost of usage for one hour on high and our usage came to 1.5 kWh. When multiplied by TWEC’s 11.5¢ rate per kilowatt-hour, we found it costs 17.3¢ per hour to run our heater on high. 

Now we can see what impact a space heater is having on our monthly bill. In this example, a space heater that uses 1,500 watts and operates 24 hours each day at 11.5¢ per kilowatt-hour costs $4.14 per day to operate. If you run it for 30 days, that would add $124.20 to your monthly bill! 

Using Your Space Heater Safely

  • Keep the heater at least 3 feet from flammable items such as curtains, furniture, or bedspreads.
  • Select a space heater with a guard around the heating element.
  • Keep children and pets away from space heaters.
  • Never leave a space heater unattended.
  • Never go to sleep with a space heater on.
  • Never use or store flammable liquids near a space heater.
  • Always keep heaters a safe distance from water to prevent electrocution.
  • Do not use an extension cord with a space heater.
  • Do not use the heater to dry clothes.
  • Be sure the heater’s plug fits snugly in an outlet. The cord and plug may feel warm when operating since the unit draws so much power, but they should not feel hot. If they do, unplug the heater and have a qualified repair person check for problems.
  • Do not attempt to repair a broken heater yourself. It should be checked and repaired by a qualified appliance service center.