Great River Energy’s triple bottom line includes an ongoing commitment to manage the environmental aspects of our operations to minimize the impact to the environment. This dedication is demonstrated by the inclusion of environmental sustainability in our mission statement, a commitment to renewable energy, various stewardship activities and environmental management systems for our generation and transmission facilities.

Utilities generate and transmit electricity in such a way that their operations affect society — and the environment — as a whole and not just the members or customers they serve. For that reason, organizations like ours are compelled to do more than simply meet environmental permitting requirements.

In 1999, Great River Energy established an environmental policy that is reviewed annually and continues to guide employee conduct. This environmental policy is an integral part of the Great River Energy culture.

Great River Energy has developed and implemented environmental management systems (EMS) that cover operations at our power generation facilities and our entire transmission division. This EMS is the foundation of our environmental compliance strategy.

LEED-certified facilities

Because our member base is largely residential, one of the best places to practice energy efficiency and conservation is in building construction. The more efficiently we build new homes and businesses, the less energy they use and the less energy we have to produce or purchase.

And because we’re a utility that believes in taking its own advice, we decided to set an example. Our headquarters facility, located in Maple Grove, Minnesota, was the first in Minnesota to achieve Platinum LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification. The award is the highest designation available to buildings that demonstrate energy efficiency and sustainability.

Great River Energy has other LEED-certified facilities in Minnesota: Big Lake, Elk River, Grand Rapids and Wadena. Additionally, our Bismarck, North Dakota, facility is Gold LEED-certified.

Fly ash program generates revenue and reduces waste

In 1997, Great River Energy turned one of our waste products, fly ash into a revenue generating product by selling it into the concrete market. In doing so, Great River Energy not only generates revenue for its cooperative members, but also saves money by avoiding landfill costs and benefits the environment.

More than 472,000 tons of Coal Creek Station fly ash was sold into the market in 2019, which generated $6.4 million in revenue for our member-owner cooperatives. Both the amount sold and revenue generated are the highest in the program’s history. This effort also avoided more than $4.7 million in disposal costs for a total benefit of $11.1 million to our members.

This also benefits the environment by displacing Portland cement in concrete, preventing the production of 375,000 tons of carbon dioxide. This is equivalent to the amount of carbon dioxide emitted by 62,000 vehicles annually.

Fostering peregrine falcon repopulation

As Great River Energy planned to demolish a power plant, employees found a way to preserve the site’s beloved peregrine falcons by relocating the nest box from the facility to a new platform installed near the plant.

A pair of peregrine falcons returned in March 2020 to a Great River Energy facility in Elk River and accepted their newly relocated nest box. The pair produced four eggs, all of which successfully fledged from the nesting box.

Great River Energy, with the help of an Eagle Scout and the Raptor Resource Project, first installed the nesting box in 2006. Since then, 42 young falcons have fledged from the Elk River location.

Creating habitat for pollinators

The humble bees, butterflies, bats and other bugs that pollinate and help more than 70% of the world’s crops have been dwindling in recent years. Electric cooperatives, including Great River Energy, have a unique opportunity to highlight their commitment to pollinators and the agriculture they support by participating in the nationwide effort to bring back the bee and butterfly populations.

We have restored approximately 200 acres of native habitat and continue to look for ways to incorporate prairie and pollinator -friendly plantings along our transmission lines, near our substations and on land where we have facilities.

Recent reestablished pollinator-friendly projects:

  • Lake Marion Substation: We established two acres near our transmission substation located south of Lakeville, Minnesota.
  • SH line: Five acres of native habitat were planted near Wilmar, Minnesota, underneath one of our transmission lines by working with a landowner.
  • Bunker Lake Substation: We established 1.8 acres in Andover, Minnesota, near one of our substations.
  • Bonifacius: We established 3.6 acres in Carver County near one of our facilities.
  • Riverview Substation: We established approximately seven acres in Freeport, Minnesota, after a new substation was built.

Reclamation in North Dakota

Land on the bank of the Missouri River was converted from a field to Stanton Station in the mid-1960s. For half a century, the power plant created reliable energy for Great River Energy’s member-owner cooperatives. Today, the site is fully restored to resemble what it looked like more than 50 years ago.

Nearly three years of demolition and restoration work was completed in summer 2020, marking the final chapter for Stanton Station. Through the entire process, the project exceeded expectations in safety excellence and commitment to environmental stewardship. Now, the plant will be remembered for its excellent employees as well as its service to the local community and member-owners.

The goal of the restoration phase was to restore the land to a natural landscape and vegetation. The majority of the power plant was demolished in late 2018. Through the demolition phase, more than 98% of the building material was recycled, including 16,000 tons of iron and 400 tons of nonferrous material.

The North Dakota Public Service Commission presented its 2019 North Dakota Award for Excellence in Surface Coal Mining and Reclamation to Great River Energy for “environmentally responsible reclamation of Stanton Station.”

The former site of Stanton Station is located on the banks of the Missouri River. For decades, Great River Energy allowed area residents to use an onsite boat ramp. When decommissioning began, many wondered what would become of the boat ramp which offers convenient access to the Missouri River for fishing and other recreational activities.

Great River Energy was aware of the boat ramp’s value and, as part of being a good neighbor, made the decision to donate the ramp and recreational area to the city of Stanton.

Rick Lancaster, former vice president and chief generation officer at Great River Energy, presents a sign to Gary Kalmback, a Stanton City Council member, to commemorate the boat ramp donation. (Right)

Coal Creek Station introduces improved recycling program

A recycling program for paper and cardboard has been in place at Coal Creek Station for years. Now, employees can recycle their plastic bottles and containers, empty food and beverage cans, empty glass bottles and jars, and magazines thanks to a revamped recycling program.

This improved recycling program came about from employees asking for the option to recycle their everyday used items. Coal Creek Station’s rural location made it difficult to find someone who could provide the service, but employee perseverance led to a solution and finding a provider.