Cooperative spirit shines during annual meetings
Minnkota Power Cooperative and Square Butte Electric Cooperative shared an unprecedented day of distanced reports, votes, accolades and farewells.
Cloth masks covered the faces of Minnkota Power Cooperative and Square Butte Electric Cooperative directors as they quietly filed into their spots spaced 6 feet apart.
From the start, it was clear the 2020 annual meetings would be like no other in the history of the two organizations.
Although the hardy handshakes and standing-room-only crowds were missing, the cooperative comradery still shined through on July 30 for the 40 in-person attendees and the 100 members and guests who joined online.
The meetings were originally scheduled for April 2, but were postponed as a precaution against the spread of COVID-19. Nearly three months later, significant protections were put in place to hold the meetings on-site for a limited number of attendees.
“What a world we live in,” said Mac McLennan, Minnkota president and CEO, as he opened his report to the membership. “If you would have told me last year that I would start this report by taking off a mask and looking into a pretty small crowd, I wouldn’t have believed you.”
The meeting format was only the beginning of the changes that would unfold during the day. Five long-time directors retired from the Minnkota and Square Butte boards during the meeting. Not even the masks could hide the emotion as the focus shifted toward the people behind the power.
The membership recognized the significant contributions of the following retiring directors:
- Collin Jensen – 25 years on the Roseau Electric Cooperative board, 21 years on the Minnkota board and 10 years as Minnkota board chair;
- Jeff Folland – 30 years on the PKM Electric Cooperative board and 23 years on the Minnkota board;
- Leroy Riewer – 15 years on the Clearwater-Polk Electric Cooperative board and seven years on the Minnkota board;
- Sid Berg – 17 years on the Cass County Electric Cooperative board and seven years on the Minnkota board; and
- Gary Mathis – 39 years on the Clearwater-Polk Electric Cooperative board and 31 years on the Square Butte board.
“We’ve been blessed with leaders and not followers,” McLennan said as he individually recognized each of the departing directors.
Vice Chair Les Windjue, who was elected as the new board chair after the meeting, thanked Jensen for his dedication to the Minnkota member systems.
“What I respected most about serving on the board with Collin is his commitment to the membership,” Windjue said. “He has the unique ability to bring people together who have diverse viewpoints and find cooperative solutions that benefit Minnkota and all the members. Collin’s honesty, integrity and sound judgment have established him as an outstanding leader and he will be greatly missed.”
A fond farewell
During his final address to the membership, Jensen reminisced on his family history in the rural electric cooperative industry. His grandfather, Henry, was one of the founders of Roseau Electric Cooperative in 1940 and helped build the original distribution system in the area. Collin’s father, Jack, carried on the tradition and served on the Roseau Electric board from 1972 to 1994. He also served on the Minnkota board from 1980 to 1994.
Like father, like son, Collin joined the Roseau Electric board in 1994 and has been Roseau’s representative on the Minnkota board since 1999. He was elected vice chair in 2002 and then elected chair in 2010.
“It’s been a great experience and a valuable education,” Jensen said. “I’m going to miss it a lot. I’m going to miss the people. Minnkota has great employees, great management and a competent board of directors. I’ve got no doubt that they will continue to serve us well into the future.”
Before closing his remarks, Jensen was quick to remind the audience that he will continue to be active in his cooperative.
“I’m still a member. I’m going to continue to get my energy through Minnkota and Roseau Electric,” Jensen said with a smile.
During the reorganizational session, both boards elected new officers to lead Minnkota and Square Butte into the new decade. Windjue, Nodak Electric, was elected as Minnkota board chair and Steve Arnesen, North Star Electric, was elected as vice chair. Colette Kujava, Red Lake Electric, was re-elected as secretary-treasurer.
For Square Butte, Paul Aakre, PKM Electric, was elected as president and Larry Sollie, Wild Rice Electric, was elected as vice president. Roger Amundson, Roseau Electric, was re-elected as secretary-treasurer, while Tony Ottem, Cavalier Rural Electric, was elected as assistant secretary-treasurer.
In addition to approving the reports and resolutions, the membership also approved changes to Minnkota’s bylaws – an effort that the entire membership had worked on over the last year. The changes were made to modernize and clean up inconsistencies, adapt the bylaws to Minnkota’s present practices and to better manage risk.
By most all measures, Minnkota and Square Butte had excellent years in 2019. The cooperatives’ generation facilities operated safely and dependably. The power delivery system was bolstered by projects to improve reliability. And both organizations are in a solid financial position.
Square Butte President Marcy Svenningsen applauded the Young Station for its strong safety record, which reached 1 million work-hours without a lost-time injury in 2019. The performance was especially impressive during a major maintenance outage on Unit 2 during the fall.
“This culture of safety and security is something that these men and women live and breathe every day, so that they – and their fellow workers – can arrive home healthy after every shift has ended,” Svenningsen said.
Stability between Minnkota and Square Butte provides an opportunity for the cooperatives to pursue bold initiatives like Project Tundra, which aims to build the world’s largest carbon (CO2) capture facility in North Dakota. The system would remove more than 90% of the CO2 from the Milton R. Young Station’s Unit 2 generator and permanently store it more than a mile underground in deep geologic formations. Significant research is being conducted to better define the engineering, design and project economics. The Minnkota board is expected to make a decision on whether to continue forward with Project Tundra in mid-2021.
“We continue to see a substantial focus on the environment,” McLennan said. “Project Tundra is the potential answer to help address that focus around the world.”
As COVID-19 and social changes continue to transform our world, McLennan closed his report with a note of optimism.
“We have a committed membership. We are blessed with dedicated employees. We have a willingness to look ahead and not behind,” McLennan said. “I remain optimistic that we will meet the challenges ahead. But it will not come without support from the membership and it won’t happen if we don’t stay together.”
Minnkota board of directors
- Chair Les Windjue – Nodak Electric Cooperative
- Vice Chair Steve Arnesen – North Star Electric Cooperative
- Secretary-Treasurer Colette Kujava – Red Lake Electric Cooperative
- Rick Coe – Beltrami Electric Cooperative
- Marcy Svenningsen – Cass County Electric Cooperative
- Donald Skjervheim – Cavalier Rural Electric Cooperative
- Greg Spaulding – Clearwater-Polk Electric Cooperative
- Tom Woinarowicz – PKM Electric Cooperative
- Roger Krostue – Red River Valley Cooperative Power Association
- Mike Wahl – Roseau Electric Cooperative
- Mark Habedank – Wild Rice Electric Cooperative
Square Butte board of directors
- President Paul Aakre – PKM Electric Cooperative
- Vice President Larry Sollie – Wild Rice Electric Cooperative
- Secretary-Treasurer Roger Amundson – Roseau Electric Cooperative
- Assistant Secretary-Treasurer Anthony Ottem – Cavalier Rural Electric Cooperative
- Murl Nord – Beltrami Electric Cooperative
- Kalvin Hoff – Cass County Electric Cooperative
- Bill Lanners – Clearwater-Polk Electric Cooperative
- Paul Sigurdson – Nodak Electric Cooperative
- Michael Hanson – North Star Electric Cooperative
- Steve Linder – Red Lake Electric Cooperative
- Marvis Thompson – Red River Valley Cooperative Power Association
Electric Hammer Award
Recognizing 25 years of service as a Minnkota member system director.
- Michael Hanson – North Star Electric Cooperative
- Steve Hart – Cavalier Rural Electric Cooperative
- Collin Jensen – Roseau Electric Cooperative
- Don Skjervheim – Cavalier Rural Electric Cooperative
Red Lantern Award
Recognizing 10 years of service as a Minnkota member system director.
- Del Gage – Cavalier Rural Electric Cooperative
- Steve Goodwin, PKM Electric Cooperative
- Judith Honer, Beltrami Electric Cooperative
- Colette Kujava, Red Lake Electric Cooperative
- Tony Ottem, Cavalier Rural Electric Cooperative
- Randy Versdahl, Red Lake Electric Cooperative