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Electric utilities may seek new partner in bill management: The consumer

SPICER -- Fundamental changes are coming to the electric industry and electric consumers will be asked to partner with their utility and take more responsibility for their bill, says an energy industry organization spokesman.

Joel Johnson, director of government affairs with Minnesota Rural Electric Association of Maple Grove, thinks there will be options for consumers to generate their own electricity.

"There's been rapid advances with solar energy that's bringing the cost down and that will allow consumers to generate more of their own energy,'' says Johnson.

"But they're also going to have to balance that with the need to maintain the infrastructure of the grid.''

Johnson thinks consumers will be asked to pay attention to how and when they use electricity and will have opportunities to manage and lower their overall bills.

"We've been very fortunate in this country. We've had an affordable supply of energy and I think that's why we're as prosperous and successful as we are is because we've had that. We've got to maintain that going forward,'' Johnson told the Tribune in an interview.

Johnson was among 51 people representing west central electric cooperatives, generators, associations, Willmar Municipal Utilities, and city and township officials that attended a legislative energy forum Thursday morning at Kandiyohi Power Cooperative of Spicer. Also attending were 26 cooperative employees.

The forum focused mainly on energy issues, federal and state regulations and legislation affecting the electric industry.

David George, Kandiyohi Power chief executive officer, said the cooperative is looking at a balanced approach to services provided to members that includes renewable energy and complying with the state's 25 percent renewable energy mandate by 2025.

"Some people think that utilities aren't supportive of renewable energy,'' he said in an interview. "We are supportive of it, but we've got to figure out how to make it where it's affordable for everybody and we continue to do that.''

George said the co-op works with the state Clean Energy Resource Teams and the Citizens Energy League and hosts meetings and discusses what works, what doesn't work, what needs to happen to technology and cost, and providing services to members.

"But it's about reliability and affordability. And everybody wants sustainability and clean air, clean water. It's just a matter of how do you balance it. We're supportive of a national energy policy'' that takes a balanced approach to reliability and affordability, said George.

Al Juhnke of Willmar, who is ag, energy and environmental adviser to U.S. Al Franken, D-Minn., said establishing a comprehensive federal energy policy is a priority for Franken, who sits on Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

"It's been many years that we've seen a comprehensive energy policy be developed federally and co-ops and customers want certainty moving forward on where their energy is going to come from, how it's going to be paid for, and how it's going to be sustainable going forward,'' said Juhnke in an interview.

U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., could not attend but was represented by outreach director Greg Bohrer. In a brief statement to the Tribune, Klobuchar said every American should have access to reliable and affordable electrical service.

"Electrical co-ops play a vital role in providing electricity to areas that might not otherwise have access to it. I will continue to support commonsense policies that ensure that the lights stay on in countless farms, businesses, and communities across rural Minnesota,'' she said.

Many of the concerns voiced by attendees dealt with state and federal environmental regulations and rules. U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn., told the group he favors a balanced energy approach.

Peterson, Franken and Klobuchar have been good friends of electric cooperatives, said Johnson.

"We want what's best for our members,'' he said. "If we can provide them electric service most affordably by having them be partners in generating, by all means we're going to do that. We need to make sure that the investments we make are wise ones, not chasing after the latest fade.''

David Little
David Little covers the Willmar City Council, Willmar Municipal Utilities and other city news.
(320) 235-1150