Wind Co-op of the Year showcases co-op ethos

It’s no secret that cooperatives are known to be conservative decision makers, noted Gary Phan, director of education at the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA). Yet, he appropriately added when speaking at a recent awards event at NRECA’s TechAdvantage 2013, they’ve also acquired a reputation for having a progressive spirit and for putting the customer, or member, first.


East River Electric Cooperative of Madison, S.D., and Golden Valley Electric Association, which serves Interior Alaska, certainly showed those latter two traits through the accomplishments that garnered them 2013 Wind Cooperative of the Year honors. East River took honors in the category of generation and transmission cooperatives, while Golden Valley won in the category for distribution co-ops.


The Department of Energy award, created in collaboration with NRECA, has become a tradition at TechAdvantage, which this year took place in New Orleans. The award selections were made by a panel of wind industry, utility, government, national laboratory and cooperative experts.


In Golden Valley’s wind energy efforts, the progressive spirit of co-ops shone through in the form of innovation and determination. Working to get 20 percent of its peak load from renewable energy by 2014, the co-op developed the 25-MW Eva Creek Wind Farm in Ferry, Alaska. The remote site is located on ridge tops at the end of a 10-mile dirt road, previously used for mining and accessible only by a railroad bridge, adding to the challenges the construction crew faced. All materials arrived by railroad, before being transported by truck along a road that had to be widened and straightened to accommodate blades of nearly 45 meters. The cold-climate REpower wind turbines’ performance has put the co-op on track to meet its renewable goals ahead of schedule.


And as for co-ops’ “customer first” ethos, Golden Valley wins on that front, too. Eva Creek may save Golden Valley members as much as $4 million—by the end of this year.


Now, on to East River. A wholesale electric power-supply cooperative serving eastern South Dakota and western Minnesota, East River is regarded as one of wind power's earliest champions for installing the first utility-scale wind turbines in the Dakotas. In 2009 the co-op created South Dakota Wind Partners LLC (SDWP), a model for community-based, locally owned wind development that relied on South Dakota citizens rather than large equity investors to move wind energy efforts forward. The concept received overwhelming acceptance, meeting the aggressive offering goal of $16 million in just 60 days with investments from more than 600 South Dakotans.


“South Dakota Wind Partners demonstrated a new model for developing renewable energy projects by enabling widespread local ownership,” said East River General Manager Jeff Nelson. “East River and its members are very pleased that the South Dakota Wind Partners created new local wealth and proved a new model for accomplishing that goal.”


New ways of raising capital. Ownership models that benefit communities. Once again, when one hears of such wind power efforts, words like progressive, innovative and customer first come to mind.

Related articles:

Time to nominate top public power utility for wind, February 20, 2013

TVA named 'Utility of Year' for pioneering wind power in Southeast, December 3, 2012

AWEA honors Alabama Power for using wind power to save dollars for Southeastern customers, December 3, 2012

Windustry honors Dan Juhl with community wind award, June 22, 2012

Wind Powering America program honors several for contributions to advancing wind energy, June 14, 2012

Paul Woodin receives Community Wind Innovator Award for 2012, June 12, 2012

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