Power That Persists: Power of Impact
December 22, 2022
AS AN ELECTRIC COOPERATIVE, STEARNS ELECTRIC ASSOCIATION VALUES THE MEMBER-CONSUMERS WE SERVE. OVER THE LAST 85 YEARS, THE COOPERATIVE HAS ADJUSTED ITS SAFETY AND SERVICE PRACTICES TO ALIGN WITH THE CHANGING NEEDS AND DEMANDS OF OUR MEMBER-CONSUMERS. ENERGY USE HAS CHANGED DRASTICALLY SINCE THE COOPERATIVE TURNED THE LIGHTS ON IN 1937. BUT ONE THING REMAINS THE SAME: IT’S YOUR ENERGY. OUR MISSION IS TO HELP YOU USE IT WISELY.
Stearns Electric Association is a member-owned, not-for-profit electric distribution cooperative founded by local farmers in 1937 with the help of the Rural Electrification Administration.
Today, Stearns Electric remains a community-focused organization that works safely and efficiently to deliver affordable, reliable energy to over 28,000 member-consumers in six Central Minnesota counties.
IT’S YOUR ENERGY
When the Cooperative was first founded, rural farmers in Central Minnesota didn’t have electricity. It wasn’t until a group of farmers formed Stearns Electric Cooperative Association and the local distribution network was built that these individuals were able to literally turn on the lights and live with the modern convenience of electricity.
In the 85 years since, member expectations have evolved, and electricity use continues to change the average energy consumer. Turning on the lights doesn’t mean the same as it did in 1937; having reliable, affordable energy all day, every day, is something energy consumers have come to expect over time.
“It wasn’t that long ago that members would come to the Co-op and explain that their power had been out ‘for a couple of days last week.’ Now when the power goes out for our members, they immediately log into SmartHub or call our office to report their outage,” Matt O’Shea, vice president of engineering
and operations, explained. “What was once thought of as a slight inconvenience to be without power for a day or so, has now become a major disruption when you consider all of the equipment and appliances that rely on electricity.”
Stearns Electric Association has taken these evolving expectations into consideration and created new programs and offerings to fit the needs of our membership. One of those offerings is SmartHub, which allows members to interact with the Cooperative anytime, anywhere via the web or a mobile device.
“Members can utilize the SmartHub app to pay their bill, view their usage, report a power outage, and more all from the convenience of their mobile device.” Ryan Zierden, manager of IT explained. “Additionally, recent SmartHub enhancements provide members with new outage communication options, including the ability to sign up to receive power outage notifications and report outages via text message.”
The Cooperative’s load management programs are another example of adjusting to member needs over time. Load management programs allow the Cooperative to control the energy loads of members enrolled in specific programs and in return, the members receive a reduced monthly electric rate. “We have several load management programs available for our members – water heating, space heating, electric vehicle charging, commercial or agricultural programs – there is something for anyone who is interested,” John Pantzke, business development and energy services supervisor, explained. “These programs are a win-win for the Cooperative and our members; it’s what is known as ‘beneficial electrification.’”
“Beneficial electrification essentially means using more energy overall, but using that energy more efficiently,” Pantzke continued. “Energy-efficient products like electric water heaters and air source heat pumps make using electricity in new ways a smart choice.”
Off-peak (or overnight) charging for electric vehicles is another good example. Though an EV owner uses more electricity overall to charge their vehicle, the energy that is being used is generally cheaper because it is generated at night when energy use across the distribution system is at its lowest and more readily available.
“Load management programs help promote renewable energy resources and help electric utilities cut down on using fossil fuels like propane, natural gas and gasoline. This is mutually beneficial for both the electric cooperative and the electric consumer,” Pantzke concluded.
In a world where automation is becoming more prominent, Stearns Electric prides itself in having a team of member service representatives answering member questions during regular business hours. Additionally, after hours, Stearns Electric uses another cooperative called Cooperative Response Center (CRC) to answer phone calls and help answer member questions.
“Most members don’t come into the office to pay their bills or ask questions as they did in the past. Though we are still here for members to stop by in person, being accessible at all times of the day is important as member expectations change over time,” Darla Honkomp, manager of member services, said. “Whether it’s a question about their account, they are calling to report an outage or just have a general cooperative question, we do our best to ensure they can be helped quickly and effectively.”
“When members call to discuss their energy use, I like to walk them through their account and energy use data to see if we can troubleshoot their concern together,” Allan Gregory, energy services representative lead, explained. “Taking the time to address their concerns individually and find a solution that works both for them and the Cooperative is one of the favorite parts of my job.”
“At the end of the day, the Cooperative exists to serve its members. Providing our members with real, local people to help address concerns or answer their questions is very important to Stearns Electric,” Honkomp added. “It sets us apart from other electric utility providers.”
THE FACE OF SAFETY
Ensuring the safety of our employees is also of top priority for Stearns Electric. We want them to get home safely to their families at the end of every workday.
Public safety is just as important. Though the electrical distribution system is built to be safe, the high voltage energy flowing through the overhead and underground lines can be very dangerous to those untrained or who find themselves unaware of their surroundings. Every year, Stearns Electric prioritizes safety education and training for members of the public throughout its service territory.
“Our public safety training is a blend of multiple things: safety events for first responders, feature stories in the Power Connection, blogs on our website and posts on social media,” Deb Goebel, safety and loss control coordinator, explained. “We also facilitate our annual Energy Education and Safety Demonstrations to nearly 1,800 area elementary students, teaching them the importance of looking out for overhead power lines and knowing what to do if they are in a vehicle accident involving electrical equipment.”
Stearns Electric is proud to power our local homes, businesses, farms, schools and communities over the last 85 years. The impact the Cooperative has made to our local communities and our member-consumers is immeasurable in both the power we provide and the service we offer. We are grateful to support your lives daily, even if it’s as seemingly simple as turning on a light switch.
Throughout 2023, Stearns Electric will be featuring residential, commercial, industrial and agricultural EnergyWise programs, rebates and other cost and energy saving…