Co-op carry on: Annual meeting signals conclusion of successful year marked by changes, challenges

For a cooperative, the annual meeting is one of the most important and anticipated dates on the calendar. In addition to being an opportunity to inform members about the company’s performance, vote for directors and elect officers – it is often a celebration of the cooperative movement itself.

As the COVID-19 pandemic enters a second year, Great River Energy once again held its annual meeting as a simple and virtual meeting on April 7.

“Even though we haven’t all gathered in one room, over the past year we have discovered new and effective ways to keep our members informed,” said Great River Energy Board Chair Bob Bruckbauer.

The decision to hold the annual meeting virtually is the latest in a series of moves to keep Great River Energy employees and member-owners safe and healthy. A little over a year ago, Great River Energy adopted safe work practices and social distancing.

“Our goal was to minimize disruptions within the company and continue to safely and reliably operate the electric grid,” said Great River Energy President and Chief Executive Officer David Saggau. “That early action paid off, as Great River Energy not only endured a difficult year – our business excelled.”

Great River Energy surpassed its financial goals to such a degree in 2020 that the cooperative issued payments to its member-owner cooperatives to assist with pandemic-related financial challenges. Great River Energy returned $8.5 million to members to offset lost sales, provide late fee holidays or use in any other way they deemed appropriate.

Great River Energy ended the year with excess margins, which were used to issue bill credits to members and pay down some financial commitments. The cooperative also retired patronage capital, returning more than $10 million to the membership.

“Great River Energy is a not-for-profit cooperative,” Bruckbauer. “When we are successful, the entire membership benefits.”

While employees tackled new challenges and implemented health and safety measures in 2020, Great River Energy set a course that will fundamentally change the way it serves member-owners. Great River Energy initiated a three-year power supply transition that will reduce emissions and costs for member-owners.

During the board of directors’ reorganization meeting following the annual meeting, Robert Bruckbauer (Lake Country Power, Grand Rapids) was re-elected board chair; Dale Anderson (Kandiyohi Power Cooperative, Spicer) was re-elected board vice chair; Audrey Hjelle (Runestone Electric Association, Alexandria) was re-elected secretary, and Lee York (Nobles Cooperative Electric, Worthington) was re-elected treasurer.

In addition to the officers, the following directors were elected to Great River Energy’s 24-member board:

  • Mike Littfin, Arrowhead Cooperative, Inc., Lutsen
  • Gary Stenzel, BENCO Electric Cooperative, Mankato
  • Bill Berg, Brown County Rural Electrical Association, Sleepy Eye
  • Fran Bator, Connexus Energy, Ramsey
  • Mark Ethen, Connexus Energy, Ramsey
  • Scott Veitenheimer, Cooperative Light & Power, Two Harbors
  • Margaret Schreiner, Dakota Electric Association, Farmington
  • Clay Van De Bogart, Dakota Electric Association, Farmington
  • Lonnie Johnson, East Central Energy, Braham
  • Joe Morley, East Central Energy, Braham
  • David Hernke, Goodhue County Cooperative Electric Association, Zumbrota
  • Nancy Utke, Itasca-Mantrap Cooperative Electrical Association, Park Rapids
  • Craig Olson, Lake Country Power, Grand Rapids
  • Mike Brasel, Lake Region Electric Cooperative, Pelican Rapids
  • Randy Hlavka, McLeod Cooperative Power Association, Glencoe
  • Harold Harms, Mille Lacs Energy Cooperative, Aitkin
  • Bruce Leino, North Itasca Electric Cooperative, Inc., Bigfork
  • Greg Blaine, Stearns Electric Association, Melrose
  • Gary Wilson, Steele-Waseca Cooperative Electric, Owatonna
  • Michael Thorson, Todd-Wadena Electric Cooperative, Wadena