More industries using electricity in innovative ways

Electricity has evolved from its humble beginnings as a tool used to create light in a dark room to now serving as the backbone for many industries that have discovered how to use it in increasingly innovative ways.

It’s used by breweries to keep a consistent temperature on their batches of beer; by pork farms to ensure proper air quality, clean water and consistent feed to the animals; and by greenhouses to power small robots that carefully arrange plants so they grow correctly, as examples.

Electric cooperatives meet the energy needs of these businesses by providing reliable, affordable energy they can count on. This, along with a strong commitment to members, is one reason why some industries are choosing to work with co-ops.

Beaver Island Brewery

St. Cloud, Minn.-based Beaver Island Brewing Company was recently named one of the fastest-growing breweries in the country and is also served by East Central Energy, one of Great River Energy’s 28 member-owner cooperatives. Co-founder Nick Barth has said reliable energy is the brewery’s No. 1 concern.

Great River Energy and its 28 member-owner cooperatives are focused on attracting certain industries that are well-suited for cooperative energy use. This includes data centers as well as advanced manufacturing sectors such as medical devices, fabricated metal products and food production.

The co-ops created a first-of-its-kind program in Minnesota that identifies, evaluates and ranks available data center sites within their service area based on criteria that data center developers care about.

The site certification program provides site selectors with detailed information on each site – power capacity, high bandwidth fiber availability, proximity and capacity of general utility infrastructure, etc. – which reduces the risk associated with the development process. It also provides increased speed-to-market and long-term operational savings for data center operators.

These facilities also benefit local communities. Because of their fiber infrastructure requirements, data centers typically attract multiple providers. Increased competition means faster, more reliable internet services for residents, as well as better prices. Data centers also bring in substantial property tax dollars and create high skill, high wage jobs.

Manufacturing – a critical component to a vibrant economy – is similar. According to the Bureau of Economic Analysis, for every $1 spent in manufacturing, another $1.89 is added to the economy. Therefore, electric cooperatives have a vested interest in these industries thriving in their service territory: If businesses do well, the community prospers, too.

Daikin Applied, a division of Japan-based Daikin Industries, has announced its proposal to expand production capabilities with a new state-of-the-art, built-to-order manufacturing facility in southern Minnesota. This project was brought to fruition through a partnership between the city of Faribault, Rice County and the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development, along with assistance from Great River Energy in locating the facility in a service area provided with reliable electricity by Steele-Waseca Cooperative Electric.

As industries such as these and others find new ways to use electricity as technology continues to advance, electric cooperatives are prepared to help meet their energy needs.