Published for the members of North Itasca Electric Cooperative
VOL. 21 NO. 7 - July 2018
There were 111 members in attendance for the meeting. Items on the agenda included election of directors for Districts 1, 2 and 3, and a change to the bylaws to elect unopposed directors (true for all districts this year) to be elected by acclamation without the expense of mailing ballots. All three incumbents were re-elected and the bylaw change passed, according to Attorney Andy Shaw, speaking for the canvassing board.
During the meeting winners for energy certificates and donated gift cards were drawn, and a girls and boys bicycle were awarded.
There have been large changes in the electric industry over recent years, particularly in the migration to renewable fuel sources, explained Salmela in his report to the membership. No-one, he said, expected that there would be such a quick move to renewables.
In fact, GRE has already achieved the mandated 25 percent renewables energy by 2025, eight years early. Its new goal is 50 percent by 2030.
This is possible, said Salmela, because renewables have gotten cheap enough so that they can economically replace coal.
Salmela also spoke to the importance of safety. We depend on line crews to keep the lights on, he said, and in return he regards it as a sacred obligation to make sure those crews come home safe. Part of that is making sure that the crews have enough rest to maintain a safe working environment. Even with major outages, the cooperative needs to ensure the linemen will get enough rest time.
CEO Brad Dolinski introduced himself, thanked those putting together the annual meeting and all the employees who had to face adversity and long hours this year. “I’m here to tell you,” he said, “we are strong.”
Dolinski mentioned the recent clear audit from Eide-Bailly and the compliance requirements for federal lending dollars. “Thank you to Mother Nature,” he said, “your co-op is in good shape.” He also touched on the importance of safety, praising the employees for having over 100,000 hours without a lost time accident. Safety is constantly in the forefront and is his biggest responsibility, he said, as the cost of an electrical contact accident is so significant. It’s important to understand that it isn’t about the cost, it is about making sure everyone makes it home safely, he said.
In his visit to the state capitol this year, Dolinski spoke about the importance of Move Over legislation: when line workers have their warning lights on and are working beside the road, motorists must both slow down and move over.
Another program of interest to cooperatives is the CIP (Conservation Improvement Program). It began as an encouragement to consumers to use efficient ways to conserve electricity, but now is outdated and punitive, he said. It requires the cooperative to spend a mandated amount on conservation programs that effectively reduce sales. Utilities should get credit he explained, for energy savings over the life of an LED or CFL bulb and reaching greenhouse gas reduction goals.
Surprise speaker: Wes Waller
Director Wes Waller is the current president of the Minnesota Rural Electric Association, representing about 1.7 million of 5 million electric customers in the state. The surprise guest speaker at the annual meeting, he spoke on the cooperative’s strategic planning, history and policies.
One goal of the cooperative will be to communicate with members better, using social media and speaking at community meetings. North Itasca Electric would be happy to speak at meetings of local organizations, he said.
Looking back at the co-op’s history, North Itasca Electric was one of the last, and probably one of the most challenging rural electric cooperatives to form in the state after WWII. The big utilities and municipals had taken areas with large consumer bases, leaving the farm and lake country.
New memberships cost $5, and were often paid with barter or over time. For federal loans, cooperatives needed to show three customers per mile, but lobbying got that number down to two per mile. To reach even that number, Waller said, every possibly livable building, and probably even some snow-covered haystacks were counted.
Waller spoke on the monthly demand/service charge on bills, explaining that Xcel can spread this cost over 35-40 customers per mile while North Itasca Electric now has about 4.4 member-owners per mile, and two of those are seasonal. The monthly charge is a way to try to make the cost of operating the lines fair for all member-owners.Balancing cooperative priorities is like building a three legged stool, he said, the legs representing safety, reliability and cost. The costs of undergrounding lines, clearing rights of way and keeping equipment like the bucket trucks upgraded all have to be balanced between those three considerations.
He used to say, he explained, that North Itasca Electric was the only cooperative with only one traffic light – in Effie...and then it lost that one. “But we’re just as tough and stubborn as when co-ops started out,” he said. With new technology and a young, dynamic CEO, he said, the future is bright.
Talking about the future
Dolinski provided a look into the future for the cooperative. Electricity needs will be filled increasingly with renewable and distributed power he said, as well as batteries and wind.
As far as home generators, Dolinski said he believes that if you want something like this, you should be able to go to your co-op. New products in the showroom include both portable and whole house Briggs and Stratton generators. The Speed Queen washer/dryer line has also been added.
In other business, Dolinski asked for a show of hands for those who would be willing to change the time or day of the annual meeting; about half said yes.Director Walt Breeze introduced Pat Marblea, cooperative member since the start of the co-op and is turning 106 this August.
Vicki Smith, president of the North Itasca Community Trust Board which administers Operation Round Up grants, accepted a $1,000 donation from GRE. Since the program started in 2005 with members rounding up their bill payments to the next whole dollar, the program has given out $298,085.52 to local organizations.
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