“Member Moment” highlights one of Great River Energy’s member-owner cooperatives and how it uniquely demonstrates what it means to be a cooperative.
It’s not often a cooperative can say its name describes exactly what it does and who it largely serves, but Agralite Electric Cooperative fits that bill.
The Benson, Minnesota-based electric co-op held a contest in 1940 for members to select its name. The winning name, “Agra Lite Cooperative,” was submitted by a member with the explanation that “Agra” is Greek for “farm” or pertaining to farming. A literal translation of the name would be “Farm Light Cooperative.” After a member vote, it became Agralite.
A sampling of its notable business accounts reflects that name to this day:
- Fresha, a carrot processing facility, designed with advanced technology that allows high-quality, fresh carrots to be produced in the Midwest nearly year-round.
- Riverview Dairy, the Midwest’s largest producer with six large dairies in the co-op’s territory.
- Chippewa Valley Ethanol Company (CVEC), founded more than 20 years ago by local corn producers and cooperative leaders who looked to add value to the crops they produced. It has the capacity to produce 50 million gallons of ethanol annually and is recognized at both federal and state levels for efficient production and leadership in shaping ethanol policy.
- Glacial Grain Spirits, a subsidiary of CVEC, one of the only farmer-owned manufacturers of industrial, organic, food-grade and beverage alcohol products in the U.S.
Local businesses are supported by Agralite as the co-op helps them secure financing through the Rural Economic Development Loan and Grant Program, which provides funding for rural projects through local utilities. The USDA offers zero-interest loans to those utilities that then pass them through to the businesses for projects that will create and retain employment in rural areas.
Partnering with Great River Energy
Agralite’s membership grew from 479 patrons served in 1940 to more than 5,000 connected accounts today served by more than 2,400 miles of line and 19 substations. The co-op has worked with Great River Energy on transmission projects to improve the reliability of electric transmission and meet future demand and growth, including a new overhead 115-kilovolt (kV) transmission line and substation in Swenoda Township completed last year.
Looking ahead, Great River Energy plans to bring an additional 115-kV transmission voltage support into the Benson area to provide additional capacity and improve reliability. The full project will involve Great River Energy rebuilding 29 miles of existing 41.6-kV transmission to 115-kV and Agralite converting two of its distribution substations to 115-kV.
Serving the community
Beyond providing its membership with reliable, affordable electricity, Agralite is also committed to serving its communities in other ways. The co-op has its own Operation Round Up program where members can opt-in to rounding their electric bill up to the next dollar with the collective funds distributed to community projects and programs. Since 1993, members have contributed over $500,000 to local organizations through Operation Round Up.
The co-op introduced a post-secondary education scholarship program in 2016 with funds made available, in part, from unclaimed capital credits and through administration proceeds from the Rural Economic Development Loan program. Area students have been awarded $43,500 since the program’s inception.
A number of Agralite employees volunteer on the local fire department while others volunteer at area county fairs. The co-op itself participates in parades, school safety days and camps as well.
Agralite’s past and present show a continued demonstration of what it means to be a cooperative by not only serving its membership with reliable electricity, but by offering its communities support and more opportunities.