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Arrowhead Electric meets for election and information

Arrowhead Electric Cooperative held its 65th annual meeting today, Saturday, June 9 with a large turnout for both the pancake breakfast and the annual meeting.

After dining on pancakes cooked and served by the Cook County High School softball team, co-op members gathered in the Arrowhead Center for the Arts for the business meeting. Arrowhead board of directors Chair Scott Harrison welcomed the audience and said, “I hope you are well-nourished. Now we hope to give you some food for thought.”

John Brekke, vice president and chief power supply officer at Great River Energy (GRE), was the guest speaker. Great River Energy is the power provider for Arrowhead Cooperative. He said that GRE has a diverse portfolio of energy sources and he displayed a chart showing that GRE currently has the capacity to continue to distribute power to its 24 member cooperatives until 2032.

He gave a breakdown on where that electricity comes from and noted that GRE had met its state-mandated goals eight years ahead of time. That earned a round of applause from the audience.

And, Brekke said, GRE, at the direction of its member co-ops like Arrowhead, had voluntarily set a goal to receive 50 percent of its power from renewable sources by 2030.

There was no mention of recently retired Manager Joe Pandy, who left the cooperative in May, several months short of a year at the co-op.

Acting Manager Jenny Kartes spoke, sharing financial information. She noted that Arrowhead is the smallest of all of the Great River Energy cooperatives, but handles a large, remote service territory. She said the co-op maintains 500 miles of electrical lines and 800 miles of telecom lines.

Operations Manager John Twiest also spoke about maintaining lines, as well as of the benefits of the automatic metering system the cooperative is now using. He said the automatic metering not only helps the cooperative know when power outages happen, the voltage monitoring aspect shows where power lines need to be upgraded and/or replaced.

He also shared information on the co-op’s plan to replace old electric line transformers to eliminate those that contain PCBs, a chemical used in older transformers, which could contaminate the environment if the transformer topples.

Twiest also said the co-op is working to replace the lights that it is responsible around the county with more efficient, Night Sky compliant bulbs.

As operations manager, Twiest oversees the “integrated vegetation management program,” more commonly known as the right-of-way clearing program. He said Arrowhead recently hired a firm to inventory its power lines to give suggestions of what the co-op should be doing differently. The company advised Arrowhead to increase its clearing rotation from seven year to five years, so Arrowhead has decided to do more frequent right-of-way clearing.

The next area to see right-of-way clearing is the south side of Gunflint Lake to Clearwater Lake. During the question and answer period at the end of the meeting, a member asked why the Clearwater area was being singled out. Twiest replied that it was its turn in the rotation. He stressed that all powerlines would eventually be cleared and added that Arrowhead is not doing anything different than what they have done in the past.

Twiest said right-of-way clearing is necessary for the safety of line crews, to reduce the potential of a downed line causing a wildfire and for the reliability of power. He added that in place of trees and shrubs, the co-op hopes to see the planting of pollinator-friendly grasses and wildflowers.

Yusef Orest, the cooperative member services manager, gave an update on the various things that fall under member services, such as True North Broadband. He said True North “has come a long way in four years” and he said there are now 2,768 True North accounts—2,763 receive internet and 1,555 have phone service.

During the Q&A part of the meeting, a member asked if there were any way to get a telephone book with True North phone customers’ numbers Orest said that is actually a co-op project. He said an online version would be available first.

Orest shared information on the cooperative’s load management system and renewable energy initiatives.
Orest noted that GRE’s Brekke had shared a slide showing that utility companies are meeting the governmentally mandated emission goals. But other industries—transportation and construction—are lagging. He said Great River Energy and Arrowhead are working to help the transportation industry decrease its emission levels by working to accommodate electric vehicles (EVs). Orest said plans are under way to have charging stations for EVs at the Arrowhead office in Lutsen, at Clearview in Lutsen, at Grand Marais City Hall and at the Grand Portage Lodge.

When the floor was opened to questions, several members came up to the microphone to ask about long-term debt; the current presidential administration’s push to increase use of coal; placement of wind farms in the state; and why Arrowhead’s rates are so much higher than in the metro area.

Various staffers answered questions including the last one—why are Arrowhead’s rates higher? Acting Manager Jenny Kartes said it comes down to density. She said in a city the average customer per mile is 80. For Arrowhead, it’s just seven. Distance combined with difficult terrain and soils for construction and maintenance equal higher expenses, Kartes said.

Before the official meeting ended and door prizes were distributed, the election results were announced. In District 2, the Maple Hill/Colvill area, Bob Nesheim was elected to the board. Retaining his seat in District 4, the Rosebush/Devil Track area was Mike Littfin. And also retaining his seat in the Pike Lake/Cascade area was Stanley Tull.

For more information about Arrowhead Electric, visit their website or call 218-663-7239. Regular board meetings are held the last Thursday of each month at 9:00 a.m.

Photo: The Arrowhead Electric Board of Directors - President Scott Harrison, District 6; newly-elected District 2 board member Bob Nesheim; Stan Tull, re-elected to District 5; Bill Huggins, District 7; Mike Littfin, re-elected to District 4; Vice-President Roger Opp, District 1; Rollie Adkins, District 3.  Photo by Rhonda Silence

To see more photos from the annual meeting, click photo for slideshow.
Note: This story originally stated that GRE had a goal to generate 80 percent of its power through renewables by the year 2050.  However, Brekke was describing a section of the state’s  2007 Next Generation Energy Act, which pledged to cut the state's greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent by 2050.