Jan 27, 2017

Minnesota's Electric Cooperatives: Laboratories of Utility Innovation

Joe Sullivan

Minnesota's 44 distribution cooperative electric utilities and three generation and transmission cooperatives serve more than 2 million people and deliver roughly 20% of the energy we use. Electric co-ops are crucial to the economic development of our rural and urban communities — as a group, they embrace an inspiring range of creative and innovative programs, projects, and services, all driven to meet member needs. And unlike investor-owned utilities that are overseen by state public utilities commissions, cooperatives are regulated by their boards of directors with little state regulatory oversight of their activities.

CEE developed this white paper to help inform policymakers, advocates, and interested people about how best to work with electric cooperatives on public policy issues. We interviewed leaders of 10 Minnesota electric co-ops to explore how they are adapting to the quickly changing energy landscape, and how they address state policy goals from which they have historically been exempt.

We discovered an extremely cost-conscious culture that is also willing to take strategic risks in the best interest of their membership. Co-op leaders shared news of emerging pursuits in decarbonizing, energy efficiency, solar gardens, smart homes, electric storage, smart grids, and electric vehicles — a wide array of innovative programs, pilots, and projects that many energy decisionmakers may not know about yet, but should.