In spite of the national economic downturn, Lake Country Power in 2020 is moving ahead with a series of construction projects to improve electrical service to its members.

“We will be completing power quality and required road projects,” said Derek Howe, Lake Country Power chief operating officer. “But we are concerned about the impact (of the downturn) and are curtailing some of our age-related construction.”

The rural electric cooperative is going ahead with a power quality project at its Cohasset substation.  It will increase the substation’s capacity and reliability for customers in the Cohasset area.

The co-op’s Gunn substation east of Grand Rapids along Gunn Road will be relocated about a half mile north of the existing substation and rebuilt with underground service to improve reliability. 

“With underground service, you don’t have to worry about birds, lightning or corrosion causing large-scale outages at the substation,” said Howe. “We’ve seen improved reliability in the Big Sandy area after building that substation with underground service, so we plan to do the same with our other substations going forward.”   

Road projects require utility poles and lines to be moved for county, state or federal road construction.

About 10 projects that rebuild roughly 17 miles of aging overhead power lines are being completed this year. 

However, the cooperative’s original plan to invest about $15 million in upgrades during 2020 is being scaled back due to the uncertain economy. Rather than this year completing its entire list of 2020 planned capital improvement projects, Lake Country Power will instead phase-in the list. The phase-in is aimed at keeping its members’ electrical bills stable.

“We will not be doing any age-related work that would cause a rate increase for our members,” said Howe. “We will reevaluate after we see what our revenue is and complete projects that don’t drive a rate change.” 

The temporary curtailment pushes back about 15 additional projects that would replace 40-to-50 year-old power lines and utility poles within the cooperative’s 11,000 square-mile service area.

Lake Country Power serves members from Crane Lake and Nett Lake to Sturgeon Lake and from Ely to Walker. The Touchstone Energy Cooperative has about 6,300 miles of overhead power lines and 2,000 miles of underground lines.

Starting in 2021, the cooperative will ramp up construction to replace about 75 miles of overhead line and utility poles each year, said Howe. About 20 miles of underground power line will also be replaced each year indefinitely, he said.

As Lake Country Power replaces power lines, it will replace its old copper wires with less-costly aluminum ones, said Howe.

Class 3 utility poles, which are larger and stronger than the Class 7 poles erected in the 1940s and 1950s, will be used, he said. Together, the new lines and poles will offer a 90-year lifespan.

By the end of 2020, Lake Country Power plans to hire 10 new linemen, said Howe. The new linemen will be key in constructing portions of the new lines and utility poles beginning in 2021 rather than contracting the work out.

“Because we will be doing a sustained 75 miles of new line each year, we will save money by hiring  our own people,” said Howe. “Hiring our own crews will provide cost savings to members.”

Lake Country Power currently has 134 employees, according to Tami Zaun, Lake Country Power public relations coordinator.

Lake Country Power provides electrical service to nearly 43,000 members in parts of eight northeastern Minnesota counties, Aitkin, Carlton, Cass, Itasca, Koochiching, Lake, Pine, and St. Louis. It is Minnesota’s largest electric cooperative geographically and has service centers in Cohasset, Kettle River and Mountain Iron. Outposts are in Cook, Ely, McGregor, Remer and Saginaw. 

The cooperative receives its power from Great River Energy.