“Member Moment” highlights one of Great River Energy’s member-owner cooperatives and how they uniquely demonstrate what it means to be a cooperative.
Minnesota earned the nickname of “Land of 10,000 Lakes” and it has Otter Tail County to thank for over 1,000 of those, which is more lakes than any other county in the country has to offer.
Lake Region Electric Cooperative (LREC) – based in Pelican Rapids, Minn., which serves this area – boasts a membership population that triples in the summertime and members from across all 50 states, likely due in large part to the unique experiences that lake life offers.
A driver of tourism for the area, these lakes provide plenty of opportunities for anglers to catch species ranging from walleye to bass, and for families getting together to spend quality time at their cabins.
LREC cites its vision as “leading, powering and guiding members to use energy wisely to secure a better future for our families, our communities and our world.” The co-op has backed up this statement by completing several solar installations in the last few years, including a first-of-its-kind wind and solar hybrid project.
Committing to renewable energy
The co-op was an early entrant into the community solar concept, building its first project of this kind in 2013. LREC served as the contractor for its own 20-kilowatt (kW) research and demonstration solar array and also built a second 20-kW community solar project to serve its members.
LREC offers small ground mount solar arrays and associated rate programs to members as well.
“These arrays are sized to load and are unique in that the panels are faced to 240 degrees southwest to optimize production during summer billing peaks,” said Dan Husted, vice president of business development at LREC. “Participating members receive a bill credit during the months of June, July and August.”
The co-op’s newest renewable energy project is a 2.8 megawatt (MW) wind and solar hybrid that is interconnected to its rural Erhard substation. LREC partnered with Juhl Energy in 2018 to install a 2.3 MW General Electric wind turbine and a 500-kW solar array that is oriented at 220 degrees southwest to provide summer capacity cost reduction.
Looking ahead to the future, LREC is working with Great River Energy to improve electric service around parts of the co-op’s service territory by adding a new substation. The project, set to break ground this spring, will add robust infrastructure to the affected area, and technological improvements will allow for faster power restoration.
Concern for community
A hallmark of all electric cooperatives is their commitment to the communities they serve. LREC demonstrates this commitment through its Operation Round Up program, which encourages members to round up their electric bill to the next dollar with all funds awarded to local organizations. LREC’s program has awarded $207,000 to organizations since October 2007.
The co-op also hosts safety demonstrations for students in schools and throughout the community; hosts an annual Halloween event with inflatables, food, games and more for families; and works with M State Foundation and Alumni to provide scholarships for qualifying veterans attending the Wadena campus of Minnesota State Community and Technical College.
Three of LREC’s linemen also helped a Haitian community by traveling abroad to help bring them electricity as part of the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association International program. This program acknowledges the link between electrification and poverty reduction as it continues to bring electrification to those who need it and wish to overcome energy and economic poverty.