Watts News
 Published for the members of North Itasca Electric Cooperative
VOL. 18 NO. 6  -  June 2015

Report to Members: Year in Review 

by Terri Schmitz, chair, and Jared Echternach, CEO

75 years ago a group of dedicated individuals teamed up to form something very special, North Itasca Electric Cooperative. Over the last 75 years, North Itasca Electric Cooperative has grown from just a handful of members to more than 5,300 services in one of the most rural and remote areas of the state.

While we are still one of the smallest cooperatives in the state with one of the lowest annual revenues, your cooperative prides itself in providing the best service possible to our member-owners. We may be small, but our members know our employees and our employees know our members. When you call the office you talk with someone local. When you need an appliance, you can shop locally. When you put in a service request, you know it will be taken care of by someone who lives and works right here. That, to us, is the difference between small rural electric cooperatives and for-profit utilities. And that is just what we believe our founding fathers envisioned and something they would be proud of today.


75 years of serving our members 

Getting started

Starting a rural electric cooperative in the 1940s wasn’t easy, even with the promise of loans from the new federal Rural Electrification Administration.

For North Itasca Electric Cooperative, it was a story of setbacks, perseverance and grit.

By 1940, electricity was already in Itasca County – in fact, the first electric lights were turned on in the Pokegama Hotel in Grand Rapids on Thanksgiving evening, 1894. Small towns had their own power, or had lines running from town to town along Highway 2. There were small power plants in Mizpah and Bigfork.

But for the farmers out in the country, there were kerosene lights and wood stoves. And in the winter mornings, ice on the water bucket


Ortman Substation Update 

In July 2014, construction began in northern Minnesota on a transmission project that is important for more reasons than one.

The project involves building a 22-mile, 69-kV transmission line and a new 230/69 kV transmission substation north of Effie, Minn.

The substation, named the Ortman Substation, serves an important need for the area and commemorates North Itasca Electrical Cooperative’s late CEO Jeff Ortman. The new transmission line will connect it to an existing transmission line just west of Bigfork.

“Construction is currently underway and on track,” said Chuck Lukkarila, senior project manager with Great River Energy. “We expect to place the substation and the line in-service this summer.”

Ortman had a vision of moving North Itasca Electric Cooperative’s system from a radial system to a loop. What this does is provide sufficient back up power should one transmission line go down.

Currently, the cooperative's system is served by a “radial” 69-kV transmission line, which originates in Deer River and is the only source for the four of the cooperative's five substations. Although this source is adequate for meeting the area’s electrical needs, there is currently no backup. When there is a transmission outage on this line, the area remains without power until the line is repaired and restored. Outages can last for days.

In 2009 when the Arrowhead Standby Generating Plant was built to provide a backup to Arrowhead Electric Cooperative’s service area, North Itasca Electric became the only Great River Energy member remaining without a backup or “loop” system.

From the Line Department 

by Daryl Pederson, Line Superintendent

We had a very busy year in 2014 with the installation of 47.5 miles of new underground cable.

The two main projects last year were the replacement of 13 miles of overhead power lines along State Highway 6 and Itasca County Road 44 with new underground power lines, and the replacement of 14 miles of overhead power lines going north from Itasca County Road 14 to the new Ortman Substation five miles north of Effie in Koochiching County on County Road 62. We also replaced 15 rejected poles throughout our service area.

With the upcoming construction season we have scheduled multiple conversions of overhead to underground power lines starting with a one mile project in the Turtle Lake area, a 1.5 mile project in the Buckhorn Resort and East Caribou Lake area, a 3 mile project in the Oteneagen area, a 3 mile project in the Squaw Lake area, and a 5 mile project along U.S. Highway 71 from Mizpah to Gemmel.


Local Events in June 

  • North Woods Craft Shop dedicationd
    Friday, June 5, 10-11:30 a.m.
    Honoring Jim and Karen O'Loughlin and Teener Swang. Live music by Travis White, drawings.

  • Bigfork Wilderness Days
    Saturday, June 13, all afternoon
    Wilderness Days in Bigfork, railroad theme: "On the Right Track." Vendors, food, games, entertainment, raffle. Mr. & Mrs. Wilderness Days costume contest. Pet Parade, Grand Parade. Updates on Facebook. For info, call Bonnie, 244-9069 or email wildernessdays@gmail.com.

  • Edge of the Wilderness Kid's Fishing Day at Discovery Center in Marcell
    Saturday, June 20, 8:30 a.m.-1 p.m.
    Volunteers help with fishing and other activities in the morning then on to a lunch. Bait casting contest, minnow races & prizes for all contestants! Hosted by the Edge of the Wilderness Discovery Center, US Forest Service, Bigfork Lions Club, Marcell Family Center. 832-3161.


June 2015 Calendar of Events 

1 ISD 318 School Board meets in board room, Admin. Bldg., 7 p.m. (6:30 p.m. public forum)
4 Storytelling, Marcell Town Hall, 6:30 p.m. Subject: "Any story of your choice." Everyone welcome, treats and coffee served.
5 North Woods Craft Shop dedication honoring Jim and Karen O'Loughlin and Teener Swang, 10-11:30 a.m. Live music by Travis White, drawings. Farmer's Market starts at 9 a.m.
5 Edge Gallery, Bigfork presents "With a View: Landscape Artists," showcasing the variety of ways artists look at the outside world. Opening reception, 5-7 p.m. Exhibit runs June 4-27, Gallery has free admission and is open Gallery 10 a.m.- 4 p.m. Thurs, Fri, Sat.
8 Women of the Woods meet at 10 a.m. at Sand Lake Community Center. Call Pat Sievertson at 659-2157 or Marlys Maki at 659-2901.
8 Deer River ISD 317 School Board meets, DRHS Media Center, 6 p.m.
8 Deer River School Board meets, 6 p.m., public forum before meeting. 246-2420
8 VFW meets in Bigfork second Monday at 7 p.m
8 Blackduck ISD 32 School Board meets, 7 p.m., Media Center.