“Member Moment” highlights one of Great River Energy’s member-owner cooperatives and how they uniquely demonstrate what it means to be a cooperative.
The Alexandria, Minn.-based co-op’s origins began soon after Franklin Delano Roosevelt created the Rural Electrification Administration to bring power to rural consumers. FDR, who noted higher kilowatt-hour prices at his rural cottage compared to his city home in one of his writings, may have also been persuaded by then-Minnesota Sen. Henrick Shipstead’s personal message to the president concerning the lack of electricity at his cabin on Lake Irene, located north of Alexandria.
Three months after FDR instated the Rural Electrification Administration, Douglas County Light and Power – now known as Runestone Electric Association – held its organizational meeting in August 1935, and then was incorporated Nov. 30, 1935.
The co-op now serves 14,500 accounts, most of which are residential members, though its commercial accounts are a blend of manufacturing, agri-business and tourism-based businesses. Examples include Arrowwood Resort & Conference Center, a destination spot with a spa, golf course and indoor waterpark; Carlos Creek Winery, a major winery and event center; and Andes Tower Hills, which offers skiing, snowboarding and tubing.
Concern for community
Runestone Electric Association supports the communities it serves in a variety of ways, such as Operation Round Up (the co-op anticipates reaching $1 million in grants provided mid-next year), a revolving loan fund, a scholarship program, an annual member appreciation pancake feed and by offering paid time off for employees looking to participate in a civic service. The co-op also places a high importance on interactions with its members.
“Exceptional customer service is one thing we can control in our business of uncontrollable factors,” said Kris Dolan, CEO of Runestone Electric Association. “Customer service is also what can set us apart from other utilities. Our vision at Runestone Electric Association is to be better than our members expect us to be.”
The safety of its members is of utmost importance to the co-op as well. This is shown through a safety day camp held annually for area fifth-graders where employees demonstrate how to stay safe around power lines using the co-op’s safety trailer that contains a condensed replica of the distribution system. Runestone Electric Association offers this same training for area first responders and other professions that may come across energized lines such as excavators, tow truck operators and the media.
Working with Great River Energy
Living up to the “cooperation among cooperatives” principle, Great River Energy employees work with each of its 28 member-owner cooperatives to provide solutions to issues and collaborate on projects.
Examples of the collaborations between Great River Energy and Runestone Electric Association include the construction of a community solar array, on-going substation upgrades, the installation of an electric vehicle charger at West Central Research and Outreach Center as well an on-going net-zero project in partnership with the Electric Power Research Institute.
Looking ahead, Runestone Electric Association anticipates working with Great River Energy on more electrification efforts, including electric vehicles; demand response; commercial and industrial agri-business programs; and rebate programs.