Powering a growing area

Powering a growing area

There is a lot of variety within a growing region. Homes, shops, restaurants, schools, and churches pop up all around, and when people who left the area years ago come back, they find themselves wondering if they have accidentally returned to the wrong place. They haven’t, it’s just different.

Some things stay the same amidst the changes that come with growth. The need for  electricity at all of these new places is one, and Cass County Electric Cooperative’s goal to provide reliable service is another. Not surprisingly, they go hand-in-hand, and it’s no coincidence.

In the last 10 years, CCEC has added more than 16,000 active accounts — an exceptional rate of growth in its own right, but a truly rare occurrence for electric cooperatives, which originally formed to primarily serve rural areas. The service areas of most electric cooperatives are still heavily rural, but a few have had to adapt to the sprawl of urban progress. The growth within CCEC’s system ranks among the top 2 percent of electric co-ops nationwide.

On a blustery Friday morning in early October, a handful of Minnkota Power Cooperative and CCEC employees and board members gather for the official dedication ceremony of a new electrical substation in West Fargo. One news reporter shows up with a camera, but overall it’s a quiet affair. Each person at the ceremony knows the significance of the shiny new transformers, circuit breakers, and regulators inside the substation’s gates, however. This equipment is the result of an effort to plan years into the future. Although fanfare is kept to a minimum, it’s no small matter for an electric co-op.

The new Veterans Substation, with an American flag flying overhead and a plaque  commemorating the brave service of the men and women of our Armed Forces, marks the first part of a multiphase $30 million project by Minnkota Power Cooperative to upgrade power transmission equipment in the growing areas of Fargo and West Fargo. Minnkota is the distribution and generation cooperative that supplies electricity to CCEC.

Substations serve as transition points between the power plant and your home. Electricity travels along transmission lines from the power plant at very high voltages. At the substation, located much closer to the electricity’s end destination, the voltage is reduced to levels more appropriate for local distribution.

“[Veterans] substation is the cornerstone of a major capital investment program aimed at increasing the capacity of the electrical system which CCEC uses to deliver reliable energy to its members in the Fargo and West Fargo areas,” says Mike Hennes, Minnkota vice president of transmission, during the dedication ceremony. The new substation is part of continual strategic planning efforts between CCEC, Minnkota, city, and county officials.

“A new substation is not built without going through some extensive processes including coordination with Minnkota, our power supplier,” says Jodi Bullinger, CCEC vice president of engineering and operations.

Bullinger and other CCEC staff stay involved with city and county planning and zoning meetings and economic development groups. If undeveloped land is zoned for commercial or residential development, Bullinger begins preparing estimates for  electricity demand based on the number of homes per acre or the types of commercial establishments being planned. As demand increases, adding new substations in strategic
locations becomes a necessary step in the process.

The Sanford Medical Center along I-94, soon to be a large consumer of electricity, was a contributing factor in the execution of Minnkota’s current upgrade project, but overall
population growth has, and will continue to be, a primary driver. To plan accordingly, Bullinger and CCEC’s engineering team conduct three-year construction work plans that outline the needs for all CCEC members, urban or rural. Additionally, CCEC conducts long range planning that includes five-year urban growth studies and 15-year planning of plant investments for the replacement and improvement of new and existing distribution infrastructure.

Regardless of the area, growing or steady, CCEC’s goal remains unchanged. Years from now, when growth inevitably begins to slow or move into new locations, the projections and planning efforts may evolve, but CCEC’s dedication to reliability will stay consistent.