By the Members, for the Members
Members play critical role in co-op project
National Co-op Month is a time to take a look at the roles cooperatives have had in driving American progress. Perhaps just as importantly, it’s also a time to examine how co-ops are still filling this role with a business model that focuses on members, not a bottom line.
The relationship between a co-op and its members is a mutually beneficial partnership where success by one side means success for the other. And when a CCEC construction project began moving from concept to reality, that partnership was key to its success.
CCEC relies on a vast communications network to transmit information across its 10-county service area. Radio towers in strategic locations around the service area are a crucial aspect of this network. In late 2014, it became clear that, in order to improve the network, a new tower location was needed in the Lisbon area to replace a tower currently being used near Stirum.
The task seemed daunting. It required finding a location, negotiating terms with the landowner, navigating local, state, and federal regulations, not to mention the actual construction process. Tim Sanden, CCEC’s vice president of information technology started at the top of the list. When it came to selecting a new location, his mind immediately turned to retired CCEC director Bob Huether.
“It’s difficult to imagine anyone could know the area better than Bob,” says Sanden. “He knows who lives at every farmstead, where old houses and schools used to be, and which parcels have the highest elevation. No topographic map required!”
Huether has spent all of his 79 years in the area around Lisbon. He served as a director for CCEC for an incredible 42 years and spent 14 years in the state legislature. As a CCEC director, he spent time as the chairman of the board for CCEC’s power supplier, Minnkota Power, where he had a hand in hiring several Minnkota CEOs, including the current one, Mac McLennan. Despite having retired from his co-op roles four years ago, Huether was still willing to lend his encyclopedic knowledge of the area to the co-op once again.
Huether, who attributes his knowledge of the land to a lifetime of farming, also used his co-op experience as a quick reference guide to which locations would have access to existing electrical service. He directed Sanden to a spot about nine miles west of Lisbon on a plot of land owned by Larry Kenyon, another CCEC member. In the spring of 2016, Kenyon worked with CCEC representatives on a land lease agreement and the best possible position for the structure to ensure it met the needs of both parties.
In the following months, CCEC also worked closely with Bruce Urbach, a board member for Elliot Township, where the proposed tower site officially lies. Urbach helped straighten out all local requirements that needed to be met in order for the new tower to go up. Once all the proper paperwork was in order, construction began, and the tower was eventually completed in late spring of 2017.
The upgrade to the communications network has provided a vital enhancement. CCEC relies on supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) technology to control certain devices remotely. For example, technicians can remotely cut off power to a section of line for safety reasons, such as if crews need to make emergency repairs. SCADA is also used to reroute power when unexpected outages occur, allowing power to continue flowing to affected accounts while crews investigate and repair the outage. The network is also vital for radio communication between CCEC vehicles, which allows communication between multiple parties at once and avoids issues with cell service.
SCADA technology also feeds a wealth of data back to CCEC technicians. This is used to monitor system performance and help spot trouble areas before they become outages. It also provides valuable information for planning system improvements and expansions.
“The previous tower location was toward the southern end of our service area,” says Tony Tasa, SCADA and relay technician. “We had some ‘dead spots’ in radio coverage around the Lisbon/Fort Ransom area. Installing this new tower filled in those holes while still providing adequate coverage for truck radio traffic.”
The tower project was a step in CCEC’s continual process of improving electric service, but it was perhaps most notable for the roles played by members like Huether, Kenyon, and Urbach who all had important parts in helping to make the project a reality. It’s an example of the unique co-op/member relationship that really isn’t seen by other types of businesses—a relationship that CCEC is proud to have.