A panel discussion titled ‘Farming for the Future: A Look at South Dakota’s Ag Economy’ featuring South Dakota Congressman Dusty Johnson was held on Wednesday, August 5 at the Sioux Empire Fair in Sioux Falls. The event was hosted by the region’s Touchstone Energy Cooperatives to examine South Dakota’s agriculture economy and explore possible relief efforts to help get the rural economy back on its feet. East River Electric Power Cooperative’s Communications and Marketing Manager Shayla Ebsen moderated the panel.
Food processing and issues with the food chain as well as consolidation in the agricultural processing sector were a few of the topics that the panelists discussed.
“You look at what happened to Smithfield, and frankly a dozen other meat packing facilities across this country, when you get those kinds of choke holds that means the producer gets less for the cattle and the pork they’re selling, and unfortunately the consumer has to pay more at the grocery store. Those are issues our country has got to resolve,” said Johnson.
In addition to Congressman Johnson, panelists included American Coalition for Ethanol CEO Brian Jennings and South Dakota Corn Growers Association and South Dakota Corn Utilization Council Executive Director Lisa Richardson. Other topics discussed by the panelists included trade policies, relief options for the biofuels industry and ag sector stimulus packages.
“COVID has had major impacts on the entire ag sector,” said Richardson. “For corn specific, we produce around 800 million bushels of corn in South Dakota, which we use about 450 million for ethanol, we use about 80-100 million for livestock, and the rest goes out on rail to the Pacific Northwest where we export it around the world.”
“We’re in a situation now where billions of dollars have been lost from the balance sheet of the U.S. ethanol industry,” said Jennings. “We’re working with Representative Johnson and others to make sure that ethanol producers are not left behind in the fourth stimulus working its way through Congress.”
Jennings said there is no equivalent replacement for the ethanol demand lost through the nosedive in fuel use, but during the pandemic some ethanol plants were able to pivot to producing other products that were needed during the pandemic to help with revenue losses.
“Long term, we’re working on increasing demand. Part of that is pivoting to make sure that we supply other markets that emerge,” Jennings said. “One market that has really grown substantially through this pandemic is the need for disinfectants and the need for sanitizers. Not every ethanol plant has the ability to participate in those markets, but many have been able to pivot and produce a higher grade of alcohol that’s going into that growing marketplace.”
The region’s Touchstone Energy Cooperatives have been requesting relief for rural America throughout the pandemic. In May, East River Electric, along with 30 other electric cooperatives, signed on to a letter urging members of Congress to support additional stimulus package relief for food and ethanol processing plants, and the farmers and ranchers who serve them. The electric cooperatives represented on the letter combined serve over 3 million consumers across the region.
“We are respectfully requesting much-needed economic relief for rural America, which continues to suffer from the impacts of the coronavirus pandemic,” said East River General Manager Tom Boyko. “Rural electric cooperatives were created to provide electricity to farms and rural communities and have continued to expand this essential service as rural America has grown and prospered. Our member-owners have invested in not only the electric infrastructure through their cooperative to serve these areas, but also in helping to develop the rural economy in which they live. These investments have allowed for diversification into biofuels, food processing, and other business development opportunities.”
East River is a Touchstone Energy Cooperative and is the wholesale power provider to 24 distribution electric cooperatives and one municipal electric system in eastern South Dakota and western Minnesota. Touchstone Energy Cooperatives is a nationwide alliance of more than 700 electric cooperatives from across the nation and serves as a mark of best in class service in the utility industry.
Over 30 cooperatives serving members across the Upper Midwest have signed on to a letter urging members of Congress to provide economic relief for rural America. The letter was addressed to members of Congress from Minnesota, South Dakota, North Dakota, Iowa and Nebraska. Specifically, the letter calls for Congress to support additional stimulus package relief for food and ethanol processing plants, and the farmers and ranchers who serve them—most of whom are also electric cooperative members. The electric cooperatives represented on the letter combined serve over 3 million consumers across the region.
“We are respectfully requesting much-needed economic relief for rural America, which continues to suffer from the impacts of the coronavirus pandemic,” the letter said. “Rural electric cooperatives were created to provide electricity to farms and rural communities and have continued to expand this essential service as rural America has grown and prospered. Our member-owners have invested in not only the electric infrastructure through their cooperative to serve these areas, but also in helping to develop the rural economy in which they live. These investments have allowed for diversification into biofuels, food processing, and other business development opportunities.”
The nationwide steep drop in liquid fuel demand has resulted in a major economic impact on biofuels processing plants across the country. Estimates show as much as half of U.S. ethanol production has been idled. In addition, the pandemic has forced several food processing facilities to either idle or shut down. These events have left producers of several agricultural commodities without a market for their product, forcing some to euthanize animals or destroy their products. The pandemic has compounded the impacts of low commodity prices and extreme weather events that had already created a struggling farm and rural economy.
“Reduced ethanol production and livestock processing threatens our food and energy security, and, in turn, results in reduced electric load, a burden that ultimately falls on the individual members of an electric cooperative,” the letter reads. “The combination of these issues poses a significant threat to the overall well-being of the rural communities that we serve.”
Congress is currently considering passage of another stimulus package as the nation continues to experience significant impacts from the coronavirus pandemic. The region’s electric cooperatives are urging others to also reach out to Congress to ensure the needs of rural America are addressed in the package.
Members of Congress receiving the letter were North Dakota Sens. John Hoeven and Kevin Cramer; South Dakota Sens. John Thune and Mike Rounds; Iowa Sens. Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst; Nebraska Sens. Deb Fischer and Ben Sasse; and Minnesota Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Tina Smith; North Dakota Rep. Kelly Armstrong; South Dakota Rep. Dusty Johnson; Iowa Reps. Steve King, Abby Finkenauer, Dave Loebsack and Cindy Axne; and Nebraska Reps. Adrian Smith and Jeff Fortenberry.
Read the full letter that was sent to Congress here.
East River Electric Power Cooperative has been activating different portions of its Pandemic Response Plan to continue to provide essential electric services to its member cooperatives and municipal electric systems through the coronavirus pandemic. The cooperative has over 140 employees who work out of 8 different communities in South Dakota and Minnesota and provides electricity to member electric systems that serve over 250,000 consumers across the region. East River Electric sent a letter to the South Dakota Office of Emergency Management to update them on the response from electric cooperatives.
“Our top priority is the safety and health of our employees and the public as we continue to provide reliable electric service to our member-owners,” said Tom Boyko. “We’re monitoring the news of the coronavirus closely and have plans in place to respond to multiple scenarios. We hope we don’t have to implement all of these plans, but we’re prepared to do so if we need to. We’ve updated the state Office of Emergency Management to let them know we’re prepared to continue to provide reliable electricity while making sure that our employees are safe.”
Boyko said some of the cooperative’s employees have started remote work schedules, but they have many employees who work on outdoor electric infrastructure including power poles, transmission wires and substations which doesn’t allow these specialized technicians, linemen and others to remote work. Keeping them healthy and on the job is critical in a time like this.
“We provide electric transmission system operations and emergency response services 24 hours a day,” Boyko said. “We will be prepared to respond to any outages or problems on the system if they arise. We have cross-trained employees and have developed work schedules that will ensure that our crews are separated and we’re able to continue to operate the electric system in the event some of our employees can’t report to work. We also have cybersecurity and information technology protocols in place to make sure we have all areas of our service territory and business operations covered.”
In response to the threat of coronavirus, the cooperative has restricted any entry into its facilities, implemented a more frequent cleaning and sanitizing schedule throughout its buildings, minimized unnecessary group interaction and coordinated with interdependent utilities, contractors and suppliers to evaluate how operations could be impacted by potential disruptions. The cooperative will continue to monitor the situation closely and respond according to its emergency response plans.
Geronimo Energy Solar Announcement from East River Electric on Vimeo.
Geronimo Energy (Geronimo), a National Grid company, and Basin Electric Power Cooperative (Basin Electric) announced today the execution of a Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) for the Wild Springs Solar Project (Wild Springs). Wild Springs is a 128 megawatt (MW) clean solar energy project located in Pennington County, South Dakota, approximately 20 miles east of Rapid City. Wild Springs is anticipated to begin operations in 2022. Using the EPA’s greenhouse gas equivalencies calculator, the project is estimated to offset carbon dioxide emissions by 190,000 metric tons annually.
Once operational, Wild Springs will be the largest solar project in South Dakota. It will be located in the service area of West River Electric Association, Inc. (West River Electric), which is a distribution electric cooperative member of Basin Electric. In total, Basin Electric is a not-for-profit wholesale power provider to 141 member cooperative systems in nine states. In South Dakota, Basin Electric transmits its power supply to two generation and transmission (G&T) cooperatives, Rushmore Electric Power Cooperative (Rushmore Electric) and East River Electric Power Cooperative. Those two G&T cooperatives then transmit the power supply to their respective distribution cooperatives, with Rushmore Electric being the G&T provider to West River Electric. West River Electric and the state’s 27 other distribution co-ops power the homes, farms and businesses within their service areas.
“For the first time in its history, Basin Electric will buy solar generation on a large scale to serve our members. The board’s decision to add solar generation to our resource portfolio is to continue with our all-of-the-above strategy, as well as solar generation becoming a more economic energy source. We are excited about adding solar to our already diverse generation mix,” stated Paul Sukut, CEO and General Manager of Basin Electric Power Cooperative.
“Our cooperative network is always looking to ensure we have a mix of power resources to meet the needs of our membership and renewable energy is an important part of that strategy,” said Rushmore Electric General Manager, Vic Simmons. “This project with Geronimo Energy is an important strategic step as we look to the future in continuing our strong history of providing safe, affordable and reliable power.”
“We’re excited that West River’s service area will be home to the Wild Springs Solar Project,” said West River Electric Association CEO/General Manager, Dick Johnson. “This solar energy project will benefit our cooperative family, as well as our local communities. As not-for-profit co-ops that are owned by our members, everything we do goes back to the people we serve.”
The project has been supported by local and state community members and will bring significant economic benefits to the local area. Current estimations for the project’s economic benefits total over $17 million throughout the first 20 years of operation, including positive impacts in new tax revenue, construction jobs, new full-time jobs, and charitable funds through the project’s Education Fund. The Wild Springs Education Fund alone will offer approximately $500,000 in donations to the local school districts connected to the project above and beyond all tax revenue and local spending benefits.
“Historically, there has been a misconception that solar in the northern regions of the United States wasn’t feasible,” stated David Reamer, President for Geronimo Energy. “Both Geronimo and Basin Electric recognized that the addition of solar to its overall generation fleet not only offers customers a clean, economic option for their electricity, but it also diversifies a utility’s portfolio.”
Geronimo’s South Dakota operating project portfolio includes the recently completed Crocker Wind Farm, a 200 MW wind project located in Clark County, South Dakota. Geronimo also successfully developed the operational Pierre Solar Project, a joint effort with the City of Pierre and Missouri River Energy Services, located on City property in Hughes County, South Dakota.
About Geronimo Energy: Geronimo Energy, a National Grid (NYSE: NGG) company, is a leading North American renewable energy development company based in Minneapolis, Minnesota, with satellite offices located throughout multiple states in the regions where it develops, constructs, and operates. As a farmer-friendly and community driven company, Geronimo develops projects for corporations and utilities that seek to repower America’s grid by reigniting local economies and reinvesting in a sustainable future. Geronimo has developed over 2,400 megawatts of wind and solar projects that are either operational or currently under construction, resulting in an investment of over $4 billion in critical energy infrastructure and the revitalization of rural economies. Geronimo has a vast development pipeline of wind and solar projects in various stages of development throughout the United States. Please visit www.geronimoenergy.com to learn more.
About Basin Electric Power Cooperative: Basin Electric is a consumer-owned, regional cooperative headquartered in Bismarck, North Dakota. It generates and transmits electricity to 141 member rural electric systems in nine states: Colorado, Iowa, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wyoming. These member systems distribute electricity to about 3 million consumers. Find out more at www.basinelectric.com.
East River employees volunteered their time and talents to help serve 75 meals at the monthly Gathering Meal at the Madison United Methodist Church. Over 25 East River employees baked desserts or assisted with preparing, serving and cleaning up after the meal. This is a great chance for our employees to give back and live out the 7th cooperative principle of commitment to community. Thank you to everyone who volunteered at this event!
East River Electric Power Cooperative recently presented service awards to 24 employees with years of service ranging from five to 40 years.
“I’d like to congratulate this year’s service award recipients and thank them for their dedication to East River Electric,” said East River General Manager Tom Boyko.
SCADA, Radio and Load Management Foreman Paul Lambert, one of this year’s service award recipients, began working at East River 40 years ago.
“I grew up on a family farm in eastern South Dakota and electricity played an important part in our daily farm activities especially dealing with livestock. The cooperative model and service have always resonated with me perhaps in part because my maternal grandfather served in the State Legislature and helped draft the legislation that laid the groundwork for rural electrification in South Dakota,” said Lambert.
Three employees celebrated their 40-year work anniversary. Teresa Goehring, System Operator, added that there have been many changes in the electric industry over the years. Lambert agreed, “The job has changed in that the utility industry today demands more and more data with robust telecommunications networks to deliver this real time. I’ve always felt that East River fulfills an important service to rural America and am proud to contribute in a small way towards that effort.”
Steve Hofman, Meter/Relay Foreman, also celebrated his 40-year work anniversary. “Technology has drastically changed our jobs and how we perform them,” shared Hofman. “But with all the changes that have taken place, the one constant has been the dedicated, hardworking people that make East River such a successful organization. I’ve had a great career here and I’m happy to have had to chance to work for such a great cooperative for the past 40 years.”
East River presented the service awards during an all-staff meeting and spouses of the recipients were invited to attend. Before the awards ceremony, the group had enjoyed an employee appreciation breakfast.
A listing of the awards is as follows:
• Five years: Tom Boyko, Jennifer Buchholtz, Megan Rummel
• Ten years: Dan Coomes, Jennifer Gross, Adam Hansen, Dan Lembcke, Eric Nesheim, Nate Oines, Linda Roth, Colton Sanderson, David Smith
• Fifteen years: Jarad Deters
• Twenty years: Dustin Arthur, Tim Brown, Jeff May, Chad Nowstrup, Brian Wilkens
• Thirty years: Michelle Burggraff
• Thirty Five years: Doug Case, Jeff Rud
• Forty years: Steve Hofman, Teresa Goehring, Paul Lambert
Photo caption: East River General Manager Tom Boyko presents a 40 year service award to Steve Hofman.