It’s true what they say: If you’ve visited one co-op, you’ve visited one co-op. And Great River Energy is no exception with 28 member-owner cooperatives serving 60 percent of Minnesota – a varying landscape of rural farmland to industrial parks to suburban neighborhoods.
Each co-op has a unique story, from its history to its membership to goals and challenges, but all are guided by the same set of cooperative principles and exist to serve their members.
East Central Energy (ECE), for example, serves more than 60,000 member-consumers in a 14-county area including Aitkin, Benton, Chisago and Isanti counties in Minnesota, as well as a few in Wisconsin. The co-op serves a number of prosperous and noteworthy businesses in its 4,300-square-mile service territory: The Renewal by Andersen division of Andersen Corporation, which produces windows at the company’s North Branch, Minn., facility; Beaver Island Brewing in St. Cloud, Minn., which counts on ECE for the reliable electricity it needs to produce draft and packaged beer for the region; and even a wholesale angle worm farm near Sandstone, Minn., where a constant 70-degree temperature and 24/7 lighting are necessary to keep the worms in their beds.
And if you’ve ever popped microwavable popcorn at home, the pouch was likely manufactured by equipment designed and produced by Northland Automation & Engineering near Mora, Minn. – another ECE member.
Concern for community
ECE holds true to the “concern for community” cooperative principle by having contributed nearly $2 million to community projects and programs since 1997 through its Operation Round Up Trust. Operation Round Up is a program that encourages members to round up their bill to the nearest dollar, a tax-deductible amount placed into a fund that is used for donations to local charities.
“Each year we award more than $60,000 in scholarships to help students pursue higher education,” said Cindy Rolain, ECE’s community relations coordinator. “Additionally, our employees are greeted with big smiles in August when they deliver our Teacher Totes to several local schools. They are packed with much-needed school supplies and help alleviate the need for teachers to purchase classroom supplies themselves, and they provide children with tools they need to succeed.”
ECE employees live the cooperative values by volunteering in their local communities. The co-op is a sustaining member of the Initiative Foundation, an organization that works daily to strengthen the economy and communities of central Minnesota, and supports NRECA International with donations and volunteer time as well.
Working with Great River Energy
Living up to the “cooperation among cooperatives” principle, Great River Energy employees work with each of its member-owners to provide solutions to issues and collaborate on projects. Most recently, Great River Energy provided infrastructure support for ECE’s trunked mobile radio system, which Rolain said has “greatly improved communication for crews working throughout our service territory.”
Great River Energy also led the recently-completed conservation voltage reduction pilot project that ECE participated in, along with its SCADA and AMI vendors.
“We expect to work with Great River Energy to promote the use of electric vehicles and identify innovative ways we can sustain our business model with the advent of third-party ownership,” Rolain said. “Continued collaboration will be the key to our future success.”