The Evolution of Electricity

December 6, 2021

The power supply mix that brings electricity to your home, business or farm has evolved. Coal-fired power plants — once the backbone of generation in the United States — are increasingly being phased out in favor of renewable energy resources that make your electricity not only cleaner but more cost-effective, too.

Stearns Electric Association’s power supply mix has mirrored this evolution as well. Our wholesale power supplier, Great River Energy, announced earlier this year the sale of its flagship Coal Creek Station power plant. While this plant has operated nearly around-the-clock since 1979 to serve our members, Great River Energy (GRE) has spent the last decade making careful decisions to transition to a portfolio of power supply and transmission resources to serve its members best and most efficiently into the future.

Along with the sale of Coal Creek Station, this evolution includes the addition of 900 megawatts of wind energy by 2023 – more than doubling Great River Energy’s current renewable energy capacity. GRE is also exploring multi-day energy storage, which has the potential to solve challenges posed by the variable nature of renewable energy as the larger electricity grid moves away from thermal, dispatchable generators. A fleet of modern, fast-starting peaking plants across Minnesota is also available to serve members in the event of seasonal weather emergencies.

“Any decision we make as a cooperative wholesale power provider is through the lens of providing affordable rates, reliable energy service and environmental stewardship to our members,” said Zac Ruzycki, director of resource planning at Great River Energy. “Our new portfolio will provide our members cost-competitive renewables and market energy while retaining a fleet of natural gas- and oil-fired peaking power plants to ensure reliable electric service.”

All combined, these efforts put GRE on track to reduce its carbon dioxide emissions by more than 80% by 2023, surpassing Minnesota’s statewide emissions goal more than 25 years ahead of schedule.

This transition positively impacts not only reliability and the environment, but also member cost savings. The Coal Creek Station transaction will save member-owners $130 million compared to shutting it down, and Great River Energy recently announced its wholesale electricity rates will be relatively flat into 2022 due in large part to changes made in the way it produces and purchases energy.

“At a time when the prices on many products and services are rising, we are proud that our forward-thinking planning and decisions are paying off for our members,” Ruzycki concluded.