Renewable energy has grown over more than 20 years, and now represents a significant portion of the energy used to serve Great River Energy’s member cooperatives.

Electric cooperatives have supplied reliable electricity to Minnesotans for nearly 80 years. The way electricity is generated has change a lot over that time, with new fuels and technologies contributing to greater efficiency and lower emissions.

The Midwest’s most efficient coal and nuclear power plants remain critical to reliable energy, but several new types of power generation have emerged.

“The rise of renewable energy has added up over time, and now represents a significant portion of the energy serving our membership,” said Great River Energy Chief Power Supply Officer Jon Brekke. “In fact, Great River Energy will meet the state of Minnesota’s renewable energy standard of 25 percent renewable energy in 2017 – eight years ahead of the requirement.”

Decades spent strategically sourcing generation sources – both owned by Great River Energy and supplied by others – have resulted in an economical and reliable generation portfolio.

From 2001 to 2009, Great River Energy started up four natural gas-powered generation facilities. Known as “peaking stations,” they operate when electricity demand is at its highest levels – a relatively small number of days each year. These stations fit Great River Energy’s portfolio very well when combined with renewable energy sources.

Great River Energy signed its first agreement for wind energy in 1999 and has since added more than 450 megawatts of wind energy to its portfolio, with 300 more megawatts on the way. Meanwhile, Great River Energy’s member cooperatives have been busy adding solar installations as local renewable energy sources. Great River Energy’s Elk River Resource Recovery Project, which produces electricity using municipal solid waste, is also considered a renewable resource in Minnesota.

“These new resources complement our existing economic plants to form a diverse power supply for Great River Energy,” added Brekke. “The portfolio we have today is the result of working with our members to craft our position in the marketplace.”

Although the fuels and technology are changing, Great River Energy has positioned its portfolio with the same goals in mind: cost and reliability.

“Member-owned cooperatives focus on affordability because it’s in our nature, but we also are mindful of our commitment to provide excellent reliability while being good stewards of the environment,” said Brekke. “Renewables, such as wind energy, not only have a positive environmental impact, but in many cases they can be the most cost-effective source of new energy.”