We power on

Minnkota Power Cooperative and Square Butte Electric Cooperative annual meetings reflect on a 2020 navigated with resiliency.


Ben Fladhammer


March 30, 2021

Despite challenges and obstacles experienced in 2020, the annual meetings of Minnkota and Square Butte Electric Cooperative carried an upbeat and positive tone as cooperative members gathered in-person and online March 26.

The meeting’s theme, “We Power On,” was a fitting tribute to the strength and resiliency shown by Minnkota’s employees when faced with the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The one common thread throughout the year is that our employees rose to the challenge,” said Les Windjue, Minnkota board chair, during his address to the membership. “They continually found creative solutions to problems and proved to be innovative in collaborating and keeping projects moving forward.”

The cooperative hit some remarkable milestones in 2020. In the field, power delivery crews didn’t let the pandemic stall progress on the many projects that are important to the membership. Efforts to address aging infrastructure and improve service continued in 2020, as substations and transmission lines were rebuilt, equipment was upgraded, and communication technologies were implemented.

At the Young Station, employees kept the units running reliably and efficiently. Commitment from past and present personnel helped the plant reach one of its better years of operation, with each generating unit being available more than 93% of the time.

With the Young Station reaching significant performance milestones in 2020, it reinforces why Minnkota and Square Butte continue to evaluate Project Tundra – an effort to install carbon capture technology at the plant. The project aims to capture 90% of the CO2 from the Square Butte-owned Unit 2 generator, while also capturing additional CO2 from Unit 1. Minnkota and Square Butte hope to make a decision on whether to continue forward by the end of 2021.

“After about five years of research and development, the project partners have gained a solid understanding of the engineering, geologic storage facility needs and overall economics,” said Paul Aakre, Square Butte board president. “There is still more work to be done on all fronts, but the effort continues to advance in a positive direction.”

Paul Aakre, Square Butte board president, discusses the excellent year of operation Unit 2 had in 2020, while also touching on exciting projects planned for the future. (Minnkota/Michael Hoeft)

Elections and recognition

The membership secured their leadership and representation on the Minnkota and Square Butte boards at the meetings. The Minnkota board re-elected Windjue, Nodak Electric Cooperative, as chair. Mark Habedank, Wild Rice Electric Cooperative, was elected as vice chair. Colette Kujava, Red Lake Electric Cooperative, was re-elected as secretary-treasurer.

Square Butte Electric Cooperative welcomed two new directors: David Kent, Nodak Electric Cooperative, and Stacy Blawat, Red Lake Electric Cooperative. They replaced Paul Sigurdson (19 years of service) and Steve Linder (11 years of service). Both Sigurdson and Linder received resolutions of appreciation from the membership for their leadership and guidance. Square Butte re-elected their board officers from the previous year, including Aakre (president), Larry Sollie (vice president), Roger Amundson (secretary-treasurer) and Anthony Ottem (assistant secretary-treasurer).

During the meeting, directors who have served on their distribution cooperative boards for 10 years received Minnkota’s Red Lantern Award. This year’s winners were Stacy Blawat, Red Lake Electric Cooperative; John Martinson, Cavalier Rural Electric Cooperative; Murl Nord, Beltrami Electric Cooperative; and Trevor Sorby, Red River Valley Co-op Power.

Recognition and thanks were also provided to three distribution cooperative general managers who retired during the past year: Ann Ellis, North Star Electric Cooperative; Steve Haaven, Wild Rice Electric Cooperative; and Bruce Bjerke, Clearwater-Polk Electric Cooperative.

We power on

Mac McLennan, Minnkota president and CEO, closed the meeting by recognizing the rapid changes to the industry, culture and politics experienced in 2020. While the challenges look much different today than they did when Minnkota was formed in 1940, history has shown that great things happen when cooperatives band together.

Mac McLennan, Minnkota president and CEO, addresses the membership during the annual meetings. (Minnkota/Michael Hoeft)

“If you look at our history, we don’t expect things to be easy,” McLennan said. “It wasn’t easy for the people who started cooperatives and strung lines out to rural farmsteads. It’s not easy when we have storms roll through or unexpected plant outages occur or global pandemics strike. The reason we’re still here today – 80 years later – is because we have pulled together as cooperatives. If we’re going to survive and thrive for another 80 years, we’ll need to further strengthen those bonds.”

McLennan anticipates the coming year to be busy as the board and management evaluate future power supply decisions, new policies and regulations are introduced and energy technologies advance.

“The pace of change in our industry is accelerating faster than ever before,” McLennan said. “We must embrace that change and adapt. We must do this together.”

Main image: Minnkota board chair Les Windjue presents his report during the annual meeting. (Minnkota/Michael Hoeft)


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