Powering You Through: The Past and The Future

December 23, 2021

Today you can flip a switch and the lights come on, but that wasn’t always the case. Not that long ago, individuals lived without electric service. In 1937, the Cooperative was founded to bring electricity to the rural areas of Central Minnesota. For the last 85 years, Stearns Electric has been proud to power our member-consumers through the past and looks forward to powering you into the future.

Stearns Electric Association serves over 27,000 member-consumers including residential, agricultural, large commercial and small commercial accounts. Our mission is to safely deliver reliable electricity, provide beneficial energy solutions and a positive member experience to all types of members.

We have come to expect reliable electricity to help meet our most basic needs – heating homes, lighting, cooking and more. But before the Cooperative was founded, many went without the convenience of electricity.


“The first time the lights came on at our farm was during a snowstorm in March 1941,” Scotty Gustafson recalls. “During the storm, I flicked the light switch, like I had several times before, but this time I could see the outside yard light come on.”

Though not originally from this area, Scotty grew up in the service territory of another electric cooperative and remembers when his family got electricity on the farm.

“I remember the linemen digging holes for the power poles. I remember an electrician coming to wire our home. I don’t remember them stringing power lines, but I’ll never forget the first time that light came on,” he explained.

“I was born the same year as the Rural Electrification Act passed – 1935,” he said. “In 1938 or 1939, I remember big equipment digging the holes for the power poles. In fact, I was four years old when my older brothers threw something into one of those holes, tied me to a rope and lowered me in to get it.”

Before electricity, Scotty and his family used kerosene lanterns and Aladdin lamps to light their home, and lignite coal to heat their home. They worked by lantern to milk the cows and woke up chilly, sometimes with snow on the bed, as the coal didn’t last through the night.

“Once we got electricity, we got a refrigerator for mom,” he recalled. “It was much nicer than our previous ice box.”

Scotty and his wife of 64 years, Jeanne, have lived through a time of substantial advances in electricity. The Gustafsons have been members of Stearns Electric for 52 years. They raised their family of four and ran a full farm in St. Augusta for several years, where they still reside today.

“When we first moved in, we couldn’t be in the house and the barn at the same time,” Jeanne recalled. “Plus, there were areas of bare wire that would hit together when it was windy and create sparks.”

“Thankfully we were able to upgrade our electric service with the Co-op, which was much more reliable for us and safe for the kids,” Scotty added.

When asked what their favorite thing about electricity is today, their responses are simple, yet significant:

“Lights. I can flip a switch and there are lights,” Scotty said.

“And I can have hot water immediately from the faucet,” Jeanne added.

Two items that most of us probably take for granted today.


Advances in electrical technologies are occurring at an exponential rate and are anticipated to continue well into the future. It was just 80 years ago that the lights came on for Scotty, but today, more and more members are taking advantage of new electrical technologies, such as solar panels and electric vehicles.

David and Caroline Williams of St. Cloud have always been passionate about energy efficiency and the environment. In 2019, the Williams’ decided to purchase solar panels for their home. “We wanted to be more energy efficient and quite honestly, we wanted to save money on our electric bill,” David explained.

After completing an energy audit for their home, it was recommended by their solar panel provider to purchase 14 panels to keep up with energy consumption. However, they chose to install 20.

“When we purchased the solar panels, we purposefully installed more than the recommended amount, knowing we wanted to use the excess energy to charge an electric vehicle in the future,” Caroline said.

“We noticed a change in our monthly electric bills almost immediately,” David explained. “We still have a monthly bill since we pay the fixed charge, but the solar panels are offsetting the cost for our overall energy consumption. In the last six months, we have produced over six megawatt hours of excess electricity, which we have sold back to Stearns Electric.”

Plus, the panels are working all year round. “We learned we are still able to generate electricity through a couple of inches of snow. Last winter, we didn’t have any snow on the panels for much of the time, even though it was fairly snowy,” he continued.

As planned, they purchased their all-electric vehicle (EV), a Nissan Leaf, last February. After working with Cooperative staff, the Williams’ discovered they could save even more money by participating in the ChargeWise program. Through the program, the Williams’ are paying a lower rate for electricity by opting to charge their EV overnight.

“The ChargeWise program has an auto-timer on the meter for us. We plug in our EV when we get home and it’ll automatically charge for eight hours overnight, when electricity is cheaper, helping us lower our bill even more,” David explained.

“Plus, the EV is really fun to drive,” Caroline added.

“With our solar panels and EV, we are saving money, and energy, every day,” David concluded. “That’s beneficial to the environment, and beneficial to us.”

As we prepare to celebrate our 85th anniversary in 2022, Stearns Electric reflects on its past and is proud of its long history of providing electricity to members throughout Central Minnesota. Whether you remember when the lights first came on, or plan to take advantage of new energy technologies, we are proud to power you through the past and into the future.