Manager’s Message: Renewable Energy and Innovation

The electric power sector is undergoing rapid transformation, and electric cooperatives are at the forefront of this change. An industry that began with a single purpose – to produce and deliver electricity to rural America – has become the backbone of technological innovation, driven in part by changing consumer expectations and needs.  Elements of this change include providing our members with sustainable and renewable energy, and innovative energy solutions. Over the last few months, Stearns Electric has been involved in two future-focused initiatives that I’d like to share with you today.

Most recently our wholesale power provider, Great River Energy, adopted a corporate goal to achieve 50 percent renewable energy for member-owner cooperatives, including Stearns Electric, by 2030.

Renewable energy has been a growing segment of Great River Energy’s power supply portfolio over the last two decades. In fact, the Cooperative achieved Minnesota’s mandated “25 Percent By 2025” renewable energy standard in 2017 – eight years ahead of the requirement.

Great River Energy has worked hard to position its portfolio, lower costs and reduce dependence on coal as a fuel source, while improving the overall flexibility of its generation portfolio. These measures have resulted in a 35  percent reduction in Great River Energy’s carbon dioxide emissions since 2005. Great River Energy has also exited two contracts for coal-based electricity in recent years and, in 2017, retired a North Dakota power plant owned by the Cooperative. Great River Energy’s renewable portfolio currently includes 468 megawatts (MW) of wind energy, 200 MW of hydropower, 4 MW of solar and 30 MW of biomass. Great River Energy has announced plans for an additional 300 MW of favorably priced wind energy by 2020.

The announcement of Great River Energy’s voluntary 50 percent renewable goal comes at a time when home- and business-owners are increasingly interested in having more renewables in their energy supplies. With improved technology and federal incentives, wind energy has become the lowest cost energy source. While there is still the issue of wind being an intermittent resource, taking advantage of long term, low-cost wind contracts makes good economic sense. So as Great River Energy moves towards that 50 percent renewable goal, they should be able to hold down wholesale energy costs for consumers.
While advancements in power plant technology and renewable development continue to reduce the environmental effects of the electric system, technological progress is changing how we use electricity, including the development of electric vehicles.

As part of a NRECA Communications Conference in Salt Lake City, UT, Touchstone Energy (our national branding partner) organized an electric vehicle (EV) research program that featured teams of co-op employees who drove from all over the country collecting data for research and sharing stories from the road. Great River Energy made this opportunity available to all the MN cooperatives. After submitting a comprehensive communication plan proposal, our Director of Communications and Marketing Amanda Groethe and Communication and Marketing Specialist Whitney Ditlevson were selected to represent the Midwest in a cross-country electric vehicle expedition to create EV awareness.

Because this opportunity was sponsored by Touchstone Energy, NRECA and Great River Energy, the cost to Stearns Electric was minimal. I believe we will see expanded adoption of electric vehicles in the future and this project provided a way to support and learn about this innovative energy solution. You can read more about their trip, “Road Trip; Recharged” beginning on the cover of this issue and continued on page four.

We are proud of Amanda and Whitney’s commitment to innovation, their hard work in creating valuable EV resources for our members, and their great success in creating EV awareness, not only here in our community, but across the nation. The Stearns Electric Communications team won two national awards at the CONNECT Conference for their efforts. These awards include Best EV Story from the Road and Most Trip Followers. Their project also resulted in a valuable prize for our Cooperative: a ChargePoint EV Charging Station.