Member Moment: Steele-Waseca Cooperative Electric

“Member Moment” highlights one of Great River Energy’s member-owner cooperatives and its end-use members, challenges, collaborations with Great River Energy and how they uniquely demonstrate what it means to be a cooperative.

Steele-Waseca Cooperative Electric (SWCE), for example, is a community partner and works to attract new businesses to the Faribault, Minn., area.

And the cooperative has been successful at enticing and retaining businesses. SWCE serves a large-scale expansion of Faribault Foods as well as Saint Gobain-SAGE Glass, which has patented a way to shade the glass with electrical current so there isn’t a need for blinds. Its location in SWCE’s service territory has won awards for conservation and efficiency.Infographic

Working with Great River Energy

Living up to the “cooperation among cooperatives” principle, Great River Energy employees work with member-owners to provide solutions to issues and collaborate on projects. Most recently, Great River Energy and SWCE teamed up on rates and economic development. In true economic development form, SWCE has provided more than $4 million in assistance from the Rural Economic Development Loan program and its revolving loan fund.

Great River Energy has helped with loans to the county and city to expand water and sewer to the fast-growing Faribault area, and has created rate structures to attract large businesses.

“This is directly related to the investment Great River Energy has put into our co-op’s service territory, and the relationships Steele-Waseca has built with the community and members,” said SWCE General Manager Syd Briggs.

All that economic growth has led SWCE to work with Great River Energy so the electric system can accommodate growing energy needs.

“Steele-Waseca anticipates growing significant load over the next several years, and the co-op is preparing for it now,” Briggs said.

And, of course, business as usual is important as electric reliability becomes even more important with large load members.

“Our line crews and dispatch are always working with each other when needed,” Briggs said. “Response times are very good on transmission because of the relationship Great River Energy has built by training our crews to operate the switches.”

Involvement with members

SWCE maintains open communication with its members, and is always listening to their thoughts and concerns.

SWCE employees actively listen to their members then provide answers and, sometimes, even programs based on what they are interested in. For example, SWCE has developed two successful programs due to increased interest in renewables by members. One is the Sunna Project, a community solar program that combines a controlled water heater with a discounted subscription to a solar panel. The other is the new Power Optimized with Renewable Energy program, which adds an additional rebate to distributed generation (rooftop solar and others). The program simultaneously rewards efficiency and sizing to load.

To keep members informed, SWCE also hosts four meetings where they discuss rates, capital credits, operations, industry news and the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association International program. The co-op had nearly 600 members collectively attend these meetings in 2017.