Execs: ALLETE focusing on sustainability, stewardship

ALLETE Chairman, President and CEO Al Hodnik addresses the corporation's annual meeting Tuesday at the DECC.

Sustainability and stewardship were addressed often Tuesday by ALLETE Inc. executives at the corporation’s annual meeting.

Sustainability was reflected in financial results across all divisions.

“Allete is on solid financial footing,” said Chairman, President and CEO Al Hodnik. “Our share price hit an all-time high close of $80.50 late last year. The ALLETE we have fashioned in this era is stronger, better balanced and well positioned to achieve further growth.”

The Duluth-based firm earned net income of $172.2 million, $3.38 per share, during 2017. Shareholders received a $2.24 annual dividend.

A solid footing at ALLETE’s Minnesota Power division was achieved by balancing stewardship, reliability and affordability, Hodnik said. 

“Minnesota Power, led by Brad Oachs, continues to be a leader in clean energy and carbon reduction,” he noted. “Under its energy forward strategy, MP is growing its renewable mix by 44 percent by 2025.  In doing so, we’ll have cut carbon emissions by 40 percent, exceeding the state of Minnesota’s goal of 40 percent by 2030.”

To support renewable electricity supplies from solar panels and windmills, he said the utility will use “renewable-enabling natural gas” and “environmentally compliant coal.” While one shareholder criticized those energy sources during a question/answer period, Hodnik said gas and coal are needed to provide reliability during periods when sun and wind are not sufficient to meet energy demand.

In an update on the proposed $700 million Nemadji Trail Energy Center in Superior, he reiterated that natural gas generation can be enabled quickly during intermittent periods for wind and solar. Similar generating plants proposed in other regions are coming under fire by those who contend all energy should be renewable and not generate carbon byproducts. 

“Due to a recent positive signal by the Minnesota Department of Commerce, Minnesota Power is confident about its Energy Forward strategy, and that this project will move forward,” Hodnik said.

At the same time, however, he noted that ALLETE Clean Energy, the corporation’s sustainable energy division, is its “biggest growth engine.”

“Its operations now stretch coast to coast along our country’s northern tier,” Hodnik said, referring to wind farms. “ALLETE Clean Energy has the potential to announce additional projects over the next year-plus.”

Taconite plants are running at near-full capacity, he said, and Cleveland-Cliffs' $80 million investment in North Shore Mining suggests the industry will remain strong.

“Complications remain, however, at the former Essar Steel site in Nashwauk, Minn.  Chippewa Capital Partners continues to seek financing as it works toward project completion,” he said. Hodnik predicted more news will become available at the end of May or in the early part of June.

PolyMet is moving closer to receiving all of the permits needed to mine precious metals on the East Range, he said. Minerals that can be mined there are desperately needed by modern industries.

“Minnesota is well-positioned to be a leader in both clean energy and clean mineral mining,” he said.

Also during the question/answer period, a query was posed about cyber security within the company. It currently is strong, Hodnik said. But as customers add solar panels and sell power back to Minnesota Power, that provides new gateways into the system that hackers may try to enter, he noted, saying that vigilance must remain constant. 

During the business portion of the meeting, it was announced that all board members had been re-elected. 

The Don Shippar award was presented to employee Faye Livangood, who volunteers for the Superior Salvation Army street ministry and distributes hats and mittens to homeless persons. Pam Schmitt and Jeff Perry were runners up.