Bill Drummond, former executive director of the Mid-West Electric Consumers Association, was presented with East River Electric Power Cooperative’s highest honor, the Eminent Service Award, during the organization’s 70th annual meeting Sept. 9, 2020, in Sioux Falls. The award is given annually to individuals who have made significant contributions to East River and the cooperative movement.
Drummond dedicated his career to rural America and the region’s cooperative movement. His decades of work helped to strengthen electric cooperatives and public power to improve the lives of people across rural America.
“The energy industry has faced many challenges over the past several decades, and Bill helped our industry navigate them,” said East River Board President Jim Ryken. “During his tenure at Mid-West, Bill led efforts to protect against harmful legislation and repeated attempts to sell federally owned infrastructure assets and switch to market-based rates. Because of his steadfast leadership, the federal power program remains strong and continues to serve millions of consumers with renewable hydropower across the region.”
Drummond led the Mid-West Electric Consumers Association for 6 years where he managed the association of 300 consumer owned utilities and public power districts across nine states and represented Mid-West members in the Missouri River Basin, standing up for preference power and the consumers served by these utilities.
Before taking on the role with Mid-West, Drummond was the administrator and CEO of the Bonneville Power Administration and prior to that served as deputy administrator. Earlier in his career, he worked as the manager of the Western Montana Electric Generation and Transmission Cooperative, a position he held for 16 years. Prior to that he also created and managed Prairie Power Limited, Canada’s first generation and transmission cooperative and also worked for the Public Power Council in the Pacific Northwest and the Idaho Public Utilities Commission. He is a graduate of the University of Montana and earned a Master’s degree from the University of Arizona.
East River Electric Board Director Ervin Fink was presented with East River Electric Power Cooperative’s 20-year service award during the organization’s 70th annual meeting Sept. 9, 2020, in Sioux Falls. The award was presented to Fink in recognition of the 20 years that he has served on the cooperative’s board of directors.
As a member-owner of Douglas Electric Cooperative, Fink serves as the representative for Douglas Electric on the East River board of directors and has served on the local Douglas Electric board for 34 years. He currently serves as the Douglas Electric board president as well as East River’s board secretary.
“We have the distinct pleasure of honoring Ervin, one of our longest serving board members, with this 20-year service award. During Ervin’s tenure on East River’s board, our cooperative family has experienced immense load growth, has developed innovative programs and has maintained our legacy of providing safe, affordable and reliable electricity,” said East River Board President Jim Ryken. “East River offers its sincere thanks and appreciation for Ervin’s continued leadership within our cooperative family.”
Ervin is a graduate of Armour High School and served in the National Guard for six years. He owns a farming operation near Armour. Ervin and his wife Dee have two children.
Photo caption: East River Electric Board Secretary Ervin Fink (left) was presented with a 20-year service award from East River Electric Board President Jim Ryken for his years of service on the co-op’s board of directors.
East River Electric Power Cooperative held its 70th annual meeting Wednesday, Sept. 9, 2020, at the Best Western Plus Ramkota Hotel in Sioux Falls. The theme of this year’s annual meeting was ‘Energized for the Future’. The meeting highlighted the many ways that East River is working together with its member systems to ensure that East River’s regional efforts are in sync with the needs of its membership as well as to continue delivering on the cooperative network’s strong history of providing safe, reliable and affordable electricity. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, East River limited in-person attendance and also offered a livestream viewing option for the annual meeting.
During the morning general session, speakers discussed the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on the rural economy. They also highlighted how the cooperative network assisted their communities through the time of need.
“Member cooperatives stepped up to help each other through the crisis and leaned on each other for advice. The resilience of our cooperative structure also came to the forefront, with our member systems pulling together to share resources, overcome challenges, support each other and keep the power on for hundreds of thousands of people in our region, including many essential businesses,” said East River Electric General Manager Tom Boyko.
The cooperative’s leaders also provided an update on the Rural Electric Economic Development (REED) Fund workforce housing development financing partnership which aims to address the region’s lack of adequate workforce housing. The initiative began with an initial $4 million in loan funds that REED dedicated specifically to housing development, with a goal of raising an additional $6 million in outside investments.
The first outside investment for the initiative came from Avera Health in 2019. Avera committed $2 million, with funds from the partnership to be used for lending through REED for housing development and housing infrastructure in Avera-served communities. In February 2020, SDN Communications and its 17 member companies across South Dakota also joined the initiative with an agreement to invest $1 million over 4 years. This May, First Bank and Trust joined as a third partner, committing $1.1 million to the effort.
“REED’s member electric cooperatives are excited to launch this housing development initiative and cultivate partnerships with other regional entities,” said Boyko. “We want to assist communities in developing housing that meets the needs of today’s workforce and helps address the urgent need for quality workforce housing in the region.”
REED’s housing loans assist private and nonprofit developers who build multi-family apartment complexes and single-family homes for sale or rent; and are not made to individual homeowners. As a nonprofit, the REED Fund can offer loans with attractive rates with the objective of spurring economic development. The REED Fund is a nonprofit corporation that is governed by 26 member electric cooperatives. REED partners with commercial and other economic development lenders to provide financing and leverage private investment in more than 69 counties throughout South Dakota and Minnesota.
During the annual meeting’s lunch, East River’s leadership presented the cooperative’s Eminent Service Award to former Mid-West Electric Consumers Association Executive Director Bill Drummond. The Eminent Service Award is the most prestigious honor given by East River’s Board of Directors. East River Electric Board Director Ervin Fink was presented with East River’s 20-year service award for his 20 years of service to the cooperative’s board. As a member-owner of Douglas Electric Cooperative, Fink serves as the representative for Douglas Electric on the East River board of directors and has served on the local Douglas Electric board for 34 years.
The afternoon session began with an update from Basin Electric Power Cooperative. A business meeting followed the annual meeting’s general session where the director election was held, and the cooperative’s policy statements were adopted.
East River Electric Power Cooperative General Manager Tom Boyko (left) and East River Electric Board President Jim Ryken provided an update to the co-op’s membership during East River’s 70th annual meeting.
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.