Co-op Voices

Keep Calm and ‘Co-op On’

By Paul Sukut Published: August 28th, 2014

The cooperative family was ready to shine during the Mandan, N.D., Annual Independence Day Parade.

Paul Sukut

Paul Sukut

But when Mother Nature had other ideas and the parade was cancelled, North Dakota co-op employee and family member volunteers were undeterred. They still helped spread our Touchstone Energy® Cooperatives float theme, “Keep Calm and Co-op On,” through social media and other means.

While it was a fun take on an ever-popular saying, I find this theme so fitting among all electric cooperatives.

Throughout all the challenges facing cooperatives, we have always put our heads down and “co-oped” on. We roll up our sleeves, work together and never shy away from a fight. When one co-op faces a challenge—be it from Mother Nature or a territorial dispute—the entire family bands together and fights. It’s what co-ops do.

Through every difficult decision we’ve ever had to make, our driving force is to make our members’ lives better. We’re currently working to understand the implications of the Environmental Protection Agency’s 111(d) rule. Our primary concerns lie in this rule’s ultimate meaning for our member-consumers. The many impending regulations—especially those facing coal—are murky. But we’re committed to walk right through them and fight for coal’s viability while also working to build upon our strong environmental record.

Years ago, the Basin Electric membership directed us to grow our renewable portfolio to represent 10 percent of our generation capacity. We’ve surpassed that, and today, we have a diversified energy portfolio that better positions us for the future.

While confronting our many challenges, we also have taken time to be leaders in our communities. Here are just a few examples:

• The extraordinary efforts of the South Dakota Association of Rural Electric Cooperatives and Sioux Valley Energy, Colman, S.D., to foster leadership among our youth.

• Members’ innovative energy-efficiency programs, especially the “Littlest User Contest,” where six member households each from Wright-Hennepin Cooperative Electric Association, Rockford, Minn., and Lake Region Electric Cooperative, Pelican Rapids, Minn., vied for four months to see who could achieve the biggest energy savings.

Verendrye Electric’s decision two years ago to organize area co-ops to restore electricity to a flooded park in Minot, N.D. Despite the park being served by an investor-owned utility, the cooperatives knew an electrified park meant a stronger community.

• Last year’s nationwide cooperative response to the tornadoes in Oklahoma led to hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations to serve impacted co-op members, not to mention countless cards and care packages.

This list, and so many other stories, makes me proud to work for an electric cooperative, and it makes me want to do more. I’ve attended various cooperative annual meetings this summer, and it has been especially gratifying to celebrate many co-ops’ 75th anniversaries. Their stories all start the same, with a handful of members committed to bringing the unthinkable to rural America—electricity.

Today, cooperatives continue their record of innovation. We work to find solutions, we take measured risks, and we believe it is our responsibility to build a brighter future for the next generation.

Paul Sukut is CEO and general manager of Basin Electric Power Cooperative in Bismarck, N.D.

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