CEO’s Message – December 2021

Power Supply and System Reliability

As we move into another Minnesota winter, I want to discuss Stearns Electric Association’s energy resources and electrical system reliability. Stearns Electric Association’s mission statement begins with: “To safely provide competitively priced and reliable electric service….”

In partnership with our wholesale power provider, Great River Energy (GRE), we are working every day, doing all that we can to achieve our mission and provide you with continued reliable electric service, 24/7.

In February, the frigid weather in the central United States made news headlines worldwide. As many of you remember, this significant cold weather event wreaked havoc on the electrical distribution system in portions of our country, most notably Texas.

I addressed the polar vortex and the blackouts in Texas in my CEO column in March 2021, and hopefully provided you with reassurance that Minnesota’s energy distribution system is well prepared to continue providing reliable electric service to our members through events like these, just like we did in February 2021.

Stearns Electric is one of 28 Minnesota electric cooperatives that purchases power, or electricity, from GRE. GRE is a member of a larger power system called the Mid-Continent Independent System Operator (MISO). MISO controls the energy market from Manitoba through the east central part of the U.S., down to Louisiana.

Like all energy generation members of MISO, GRE sells its generated energy into the MISO market, and likewise, buys bulk energy out of MISO. MISO balances energy supply with demand every five minutes at the least possible cost while also maintaining reliable generation system conditions. This ensures members of MISO are not only receiving the energy they are requesting, but also paying for energy at the lowest possible rates, which then get passed on to you, the energy consumer.

GRE has a significant amount of generation capacity for times where electricity requirements are at their peaks, such as during the 2021 polar vortex. During those few days, MISO called for “maximum generation,” and all generation in the MISO footprint was brought online, which is about 190,000 MW of energy. This included GRE’s eight peaking units, used only for high-demand situations like the polar vortex, that provided about 1,500 MWs of energy.

For the most part, these peaking units generate energy with natural gas. However, most units can also operate on fuel oil, which provides a hedge against the risk of scarce or expensive natural gas. These peaking plants, along with the other energy generation adjustments that are in the works – adding more wind generation and retiring coal – will be cleaner and cheaper. Ultimately, this leads to continued reliability, affordability and care for the environment.

Stearns Electric continues to promote grid reliability through GRE, MISO and our local distribution system. Being part of a regional integrated electric grid and diverse energy mix will assure that we continue to provide electric service reliability even during the most extreme weather. We are up to the challenge of achieving reliable service and cost competitive electric rates, while being sensitive to consumer preference for alternative forms of energy.


Robin C. Doege