Innovation is one of East River Electric’s guiding values. Our employees are challenged to think outside the box of current business practices and explore new solutions that will benefit our industry, always looking through the lens of how those solutions can enhance the value of our member systems. The successes of this approach are visible throughout East River’s history, from launching one of the most successful cooperative load management programs in the country to serving as a driving force behind growing our region’s ethanol industry and more.
In 2018, East River partnered with the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association and Dakota State University on an innovative research and development project to help optimize consumers’ energy usage in their homes using smart home technology. The Connected Home Research Project has been testing smart home technology – from a connected refrigerator and washer and dryer to connected lighting and state-of-the-art home appliances. The expected outcome of this project would help homeowners and their electric cooperative save money and improve their lives.
By working together with their neighboring cooperatives, East River’s members are able to be involved in wider-reaching research and development projects in an effort to continue making innovation a top priority and living up to our guiding values.
Our Power Generation Strategy
Our commitment to innovation includes continuously looking to ensure we have a mix of power resources to serve our membership with reliable and affordable electricity. As a result, we employ an ‘all of the above’ generation strategy. Part of that strategy is using renewable energy. Currently, 37 percent of our cooperative family’s generation mix comes from renewable sources including hydropower and wind, with plans for steady and fiscally responsible growth. That includes buying power from what will be South Dakota’s largest solar farm – the 128 megawatt Wild Springs Solar farm – beginning in 2022. This year, about 20 percent of our energy mix comes from wind resources. Looking back about 10 years ago, just 8 percent of our power supply came from wind. Additionally, the percentage of coal in our power supply sales has dropped 15 percent in the past decade, now making up only about 43 percent.
The need for our ‘all of the above’ approach to supply electricity was highlighted during the record-setting cold period in January 2019 when wind towers in the Dakotas had to be shut down. Weather stations installed on each turbine automatically shut down the wind tower when temperatures drop to 22 degrees Fahrenheit below zero, as the extreme cold puts the components of the wind tower at risk of failure. During that time when wind generation had to shut down, Basin Electric Power Cooperative turned to their reliable natural gas and coal generation as well as market purchases to meet our co-op network’s demand for electricity.
We have a watchful eye on the electric system around the clock making sure your lights come on when you flip the switch, from the coldest days of winter to the hottest days of the summer. We change and adapt in ways that limit risk for our members while taking advantage of new developments in energy production.
Saving Energy and Money
Beyond supplying the region with affordable and reliable electricity, East River and our member systems offer a suite of programs to help consumers save energy and money. Our Renewable Energy Credit, or REC, program entered its fourth year in 2020. Through the REC program, local member-owners can purchase RECs to offset their current energy usage with 100 percent renewable energy and showcase their support for current and future renewable projects.
In conjunction with our members, East River offers a robust residential and commercial energy efficiency rebate and loan program. Our energy efficiency incentives reward members for replacing worn out appliances with energy efficient alternatives and for making other efficiency upgrades in their homes and businesses. Since 2010, East River has awarded more than $4 million in energy efficiency incentives.
Our load management program has saved our members more than $250 million in avoided wholesale power costs since it launched in 1985. Load management is a means of controlling the amount of electricity being used during times of peak demand in our service area. Peak demand is the greatest amount of electricity used at one time by an electric system, normally when a large number of customers are using appliances at the same time. These peaks determine how much we must pay for power. When periods of peak demand occur, load management reduces the demand and lowers the cost to all members. Over 75,500 electric loads in homes, farms and businesses of member consumers throughout eastern South Dakota and western Minnesota currently participate in the program. These loads include electric water heaters, air conditioners, irrigation systems and other big energy users.
Innovation has served as a driving value at East River Electric since our cooperative was formed by our member systems nearly 70 years ago. We have worked alongside our member co-ops for decades to provide an affordable and reliable supply of electricity to their member-owners. That’s one thing that will never change. But how we produce and meet the growing demand for electricity has changed considerably, and it will continue to evolve. Electric co-ops have played a leading role in the country’s energy transformation, and we will continue to lead with the aim of meeting members’ needs in a fiscally responsible manner.