CEO’s Message – June 2020

Changes to Our Wholesale Power Supply

In early May, Stearns Electric Association’s power supplier, Great River Energy, announced plans to transform its power supply portfolio over the next few years.

The generation and transmission electric cooperative plans to phase out its remaining coal resources, add significant renewable energy and test grid-scale battery technology. The changes will benefit all of Great River Energy’s 28 member-owners, including Stearns Electric, in the coming years.


This announcement is one of the most significant in Great River Energy’s history. Great River Energy’s three-part approach aims to:

  • Keep wholesale power reliable and affordable for its 28 member-owners
  • Continue working to reduce carbon dioxide emissions
  • Add cleaner electricity resources to its power supply portfolio

The actions that Great River Energy intends to take in upcoming years are:

  • Retire the 1,150-megawatt (MW) Coal Creek Station in the second half of 2022
  • Add 1,100 MW of wind energy purchases by the end of 2023
  • Modify the 99-MW coal and natural gas-based Spiritwood Station power plant to be fueled by natural gas
  • Install a 1-MW long-duration battery demonstration system
  • Support the repowering of the Blue Flint biorefinery with natural gas

Great River Energy’s CEO David Saggau explained in the official announcement: “We are building a power supply portfolio that will serve our member-owner cooperatives for decades. We are taking advantage of cost-competitive renewables and reliable access to market energy while fostering innovation as the technology of our industry evolves.”

In recent years, Great River Energy has been working to improve the economic efficiencies of its power supply portfolio. Previous improvements came from exiting a contract for output of a Wisconsin-based coal plant in 2015, retiring the coal-based Stanton Station in 2017 and closing the waste-to-energy Elk River Resource Recovery project in 2019.


Coal Creek Station began operations in 1979 in Underwood, North Dakota and has been a critical part of Great River Energy’s power supply portfolio for decades. According to the news release, GRE plans to shut down both units of Coal Creek Station during the second half of 2022 as the coal plant has lost value compared to other alternatives in recent years. Great River Energy is willing to consider opportunities to sell the plant.

“Like all of Great River Energy’s decisions, these changes are made in the best interests of our member-owner cooperatives,” Saggau said. “Coal Creek Station is operated efficiently, safely and with pride by a dedicated and talented staff. We will make every effort to minimize impacts on our employees and the communities through this transition.”

Great River Energy plans to make voluntary annual payments of the local government share of the plant’s taxes for five years after the plant’s closure in order to assist local communities during the transition.


Great River Energy also implemented an agreement to purchase the output of several wind energy projects in the coming years. GRE projects its renewable capacity to grow from approximately 660 MW in 2020 to more than 1,760 MW by the end of 2023. In addition to adding more clean energy to its power supply portfolio, the changes will reduce overall member-owner power supply costs.

Additionally, Great River Energy’s power supply resources will be more than 95% carbon dioxide-free, virtually eliminating carbon risk.


According to its news release, Great River Energy is working with Form Energy, a battery storage technology developer based in Somerville, Massachusetts, on a first-of-its-kind demonstration of unique, long-duration storage technology. The battery project will be a 1-MW, grid-connected storage system capable of delivering its rated power continuously for 150 hours – far longer than the four-hour usage period common among lithium ion batteries. Long-duration storage will help maintain grid reliability in the future during extreme conditions, such as a heat wave or polar vortex. The battery system will be located in Cambridge, Minnesota, and completed in late 2023.

These changes have been carefully considered by the Great River Energy board of directors and are made in the best interests of Great River Energy’s member-owners, including Stearns Electric.

Stearns Electric is proud to be a part of the Great River Energy family of electrical distribution cooperatives. Great River Energy and Stearns Electric will continue to work hard to provide you safe, reliable, affordable and environmentally friendly electricity.

Take care and be safe.


Robin C. Doege