Manager’s Message: A Busy Year – Planning the Work

It’s hard to believe that I just celebrated my fourth month at Stearns Electric Association because it seems much longer as we have been so busy with Co-op activities! I am fortunate that my 20 year history with rural electric cooperatives has been helpful getting me up to speed at here. Stearns Electric, like any energy utility, has significant energy distribution assets. You are probably most familiar with our building locations in Melrose and St. Joseph. Our office facilities are only a small portion of our overall $135 million total plant investment. Most of that investment is spread throughout the approximately 2,000 square miles of Stearns Electric service area in our distribution system. We invest member resources to accommodate load growth and to maintain existing assets. Below is a summary of activities that we completed in 2018, as well as our plans for 2019 and beyond.
Improving System Reliability
Maintaining and improving electric system reliability is one of Stearns Electric’s key priorities. Updating old, failing electric cables is one of the ways that we can improve the reliability of your electric service.  In 2018 Stearns Electric will have replaced over 25 miles of underground three phase electric cable. Much of the cable being replaced has been susceptible to failure and power outages. The new underground cable is more resilient and will improve system reliability for years to come. We have also improved reliability by coordinating over voltage protection systems, replacing nearly 500 old power poles and about 270 security lights, and updating faulty hardware and equipment. We also built approximately 10 miles of overhead three phase electric lines.
Right-of-Way Maintenance
Trees continue to be the leading cause of outages for Stearns Electric members. They account for nearly 25% of our total outages. To combat these outages, the Cooperative is working aggressively to clear power line right-of-ways to reduce power outages and eliminate hazardous conditions. In 2018, Stearns Electric vegetation management crews will have cleared trees from 360 miles of power line right-of-way. At the end of 2018 we will have completed our second year of a four year plan to clear all of Stearns Electric’s overhead power line right-of-ways.
Our goal at Stearns Electric is zero accidents so that all employees can return home safely at the end of each work day. Working with electricity is serious business, and there are no second chances when coming into contact with electricity. We are relentless in conducting training and simulation sessions for our work force to make sure that they have the knowledge and tools to work safely.
Stearns Electric Work Plan
The USDA Rural Utilities Service (RUS) requires Stearns Electric to regularly develop a Construction Work Plan (CWP). RUS is one of Stearns Electric’s primary financial lending partners. Our 2019-2022 CWP describes the work the Cooperative will complete with the loan funds provided by RUS. Stearns Electric CWP projects provide more system capacity for additional members and also replace old and failing facilities.

For the years 2019 through 2022 Stearns Electric will invest millions of dollars in replacing overhead and underground conductor, replacing transformers, making substation upgrades, completing pole replacements and building new service extensions. These projects have been carefully analyzed to make sure that we are making the best use of the dollars spent.
Prudent Business Practices
The Stearns Electric board of directors and employees understand that we are managing your (our member-owner’s) Cooperative and resources. As a not-for-profit entity we know that we have limited resources to build and maintain the Stearns Electric power distribution system. Therefore, every project we plan is carefully considered to optimize our investments. Efficient use of member resources is core to our strategy at Stearns Electric.

Lastly, I want to wish you and your families a joyful and safe holiday season.

Merry Christmas!