Powering the journey ahead
Minnkota held its 83rd annual meeting on March 31, on the cusp of incredible industry transformation.
The world of rural electric cooperatives is evolving at an unprecedented pace, but one tradition holds fast at Minnkota Power Cooperative: the gathering of co-op members and supporters for the ever-essential annual meeting. The spring ritual continued at Minnkota’s Grand Forks headquarters on March 31, as more than 150 member delegates, employees and guests attended the dual annual meeting for Minnkota and Square Butte Electric Cooperative.
The theme of 2022’s meeting was “Powering the Journey Ahead,” a nod to the challenging industry transition of the near past, present and future. Minnkota board chair Les Windjue and Square Butte board chair Paul Aakre welcomed guests with respective looks back on a successful 2022. Both board leaders expressed thanks to Minnkota’s employees and fellow cooperative board members for their hard work, innovation and resilience through one of the most transformational periods in history.
“As the energy landscape continues to shift around us, we’re fortunate to start from a solid foundation,” Windjue said. “Our membership has provided outstanding support, collaboration and guidance every step of the way. For that, we thank you.”
Fortifying the foundation
Among the highlights celebrated at the annual meeting was the successful completion of a three-month planned maintenance outage of Unit 2 of the Milton R. Young Station near Center, N.D. The outage, which ran from September to December, was the longest such outage in the plant’s history. During that time, Minnkota employees worked alongside hundreds of contractors to complete more than 50 capital and maintenance projects.
“The outage team had to overcome challenges related to space coordination, material shortages and other supply chain-related issues. However, not one of these challenges was enough to deter their success,” Aakre said. “They found smart solutions to obstacles that were beyond their control. We have come to depend on that innovative spirit.”
Safety was a top priority of the outage. The team completed the effort with an excellent safety record, concluding an already noteworthy year for the Young Station. Throughout 2022, plant employees reported zero lost-time injuries, continuing a streak of safety that reached back more than 870 days. “We would like to thank the Young Station employees for using best practices as they do difficult work that keeps our power reliable,” Aakre said.
Vice President of Power Supply Todd Sailer and Vice President of Power Delivery Brendan Kennelly delivered the Operations report, once again commending staff in Center and Grand Forks on a strong safety year. Sailer described the increasingly volatile world of the power supply market, and how Minnkota has seen both challenges and positive outcomes in the shift toward more renewable energy. Kennelly discussed what he calls “the wire side of the business,” summarizing a 2022 filled with substation rebuilds, line improvements, distribution automation technology and more.
“The transmission business is also facing rapid change, with all of the investment in infrastructure buildout. It’s very complex,” Kennelly said. “The efforts that we have put forth will help position us to meet those challenges, and also capitalize on opportunities that are before us on the transmission side.”
Treasurer reports from both cooperatives indicated a strong financial year in 2022. That sentiment was backed with a brief budgetary analysis from Minnkota CFO Kay Schraeder, who explained that although expenses were higher in 2022, higher revenues from power sales to the members and to the power market led to increased margins for the year.
‘Defined by relationships’
Minnkota president and CEO Mac McLennan concluded the annual meeting with his perspective, continuing the tone of metamorphosis that threaded the morning.
“Our future is going to be different than it was in the past. It is inevitable,” he told attendees. “Your member-consumers’ expectations about what electricity means to them will be more different than it ever was before. We will have to respond to that. And we’ll have to best position that while also meeting affordability, reliability and sustainability goals.”
McLennan described Minnkota’s navigation of national grid reliability concerns as more baseload generation is taken offline. He pointed to Project Tundra (Minnkota’s carbon capture and storage initiative) as a way to maintain the reliability of baseload coal while using technology to remove up to 4 million metric tons of carbon dioxide from that electric generation every year. A decision whether to move forward with Project Tundra is anticipated within the next year.
“Nearly half of our portfolio is already carbon free,” he said. “If we’re successful with Tundra, we will be one of the fastest-decarbonizing utilities in the United States.”
McLennan thanked the employees and board members across the service territory who make power possible in the region, especially in a time of uncertainty. He noted that Minnkota’s future “will be defined by relationships” – relationships with the people currently in the room, with employees, with business partners and with other stakeholders.
“We will not be able to do this by ourselves,” he said. “I truly believe we have a bright future and that we are on the right path to keep affordable, reliable, and sustainable electricity for all of you. I say this each year – I am very grateful to work for all of you,” he added, emotion perceptible in his words.
The Red Lantern Award is presented at the annual meeting in recognition and appreciation of 10 years of service on the cooperative board.
- Greg Spaulding (Clearwater-Polk Electric)
- Les Windjue (Nodak Electric)
- Luther Meberg (Nodak Electric)
- Robert Wallner (Beltrami Electric)
- Glenn Mitzel (Cass County Electric)
The Electric Hammer Award was established in 1970 by Minnkota general manager Andrew L. Freeman to recognize board directors who have dedicated 25 years of service to their electric cooperatives.
- Wayne Malm (PKM Electric)
- Douglas Anderson (Cass County Electric)
The Square Butte board also passed a resolution recognizing Marvis Thompson of Red River Valley Cooperative Power Association for his 10 years of dedicated service to the board. Thompson retired this year and was replaced by Trevor Sorby.
Board Officers Elected
Chair – Mark Habedank (Wild Rice Electric)
Vice Chair – Tom Woinarowicz (PKM Electric)
Secretary-Treasurer – Colette Kujava (Red Lake Electric)
- Rick Coe (Beltrami Electric)
- Kalvin Hoff (Cass County Electric)
- Anthony Ottem (Cavalier Rural Electric)
- Greg Spaulding (Clearwater-Polk Electric)
- Les Windjue (Nodak Electric)
- Steve Arnesen (North Star Electric)
- Roger Krostue (Red River Valley Co-op Power)
- Mike Wahl (Roseau Electric)
- Lucas Spaeth (Northern Municipal Power Agency)
Square Butte Board
Chair – Paul Aakre (PKM Electric)
Vice Chair – Larry Sollie (Wild Rice Electric)
Secretary-Treasurer – Murl Nord (Beltrami Electric)
- Terry Kraft (Cass County Electric)
- John Martinson (Cavalier Rural Electric)
- Bill Lanners (Clearwater-Polk Electric)
- David Kent (Nodak Electric)
- Michael Hanson (North Star Electric)
- Peter Mosbeck (Red Lake Electric)
- Trevor Sorby (Red River Valley Co-op Power)
- Shawn Gust (Roseau Electric)