New co-op chief remains optimistic
SPICER -- Scott Froemming said he knew what he was getting into when the board of directors of Kandiyohi Power Cooperative of Spicer promoted him from chief financial officer to chief executive officer.
SPICER - Scott Froemming said he knew what he was getting into when the board of directors of Kandiyohi Power Cooperative of Spicer promoted him from chief financial officer to chief executive officer.
Froemming’s first day in the new position was Feb. 1 and it’s gone well so far, he said.
“It’s been what I expected, definitely added responsibilities. I knew coming in - having been here before - what the co-op was about. I was coming into a good situation, to a well-run co-op, a financially sound co-op, and really a business that’s been run progressively,’’ Froemming said.
“Those are things that are appealing to me and to probably most people coming in. But I had firsthand knowledge of that and had a part in that up to that point. We will continue on doing what we’re doing because I think we’re on the right path.’’
Froemming has worked in the electricity industry for 27-28 years, including 10 years as chief financial officer at Kandiyohi Power Cooperative. The cooperative is an energy distribution cooperative that has 31 employees and serves approximately 8,200 customer-members in Kandiyohi County. Froemming took over from longtime CEO David George who retired.
Many changes are taking place in the electric industry, and Froemming said it’s important to keep looking forward and looking up.
“I liken it to walking down the road looking at your shoe tops, and you’re going along just fine,’’ he said. “But at some point you’re going to run into a wall, and that’s what I don’t want to happen.’’
Froemming said everybody’s trying to guess where things are going to go with renewable energy and battery storage. He said solar has potential to have a huge impact, and battery storage could have a huge impact if there’s some technological advances.
“So trying to figure out how all those pieces fit together and what that means to our co-op going forward is the challenge,’’ he said.
That’s part of the reason why the co-op developed a community solar garden.
“We’ve kind of dipped our toe in a small way to try and figure out how these work and gain some experience with the technology and the equipment and just the operational characteristics. It’s part of gathering information so that when members come to us we can give them good information,’’ he said.
Also, utilities in general such as Great River Energy, which supplies energy to Kandiyohi Power Cooperative and 27 other co-ops in Minnesota, and Kandiyohi Power Cooperative in particular are wondering what the effect will be of the proposed federal rule that aims to cut carbon pollution from coal-fired power plants.
“Once those rules are finalized, we’ll know for sure what we’re operating under. But it has the potential over the long haul to severely curtail the amount of generation from coal, and clearly the current administration has labeled coal as bad and is trying to remove it from the mix,’’ Froemming said.
“Our philosophy I guess here … is it’s an all-of-the-above approach. … And GRE does have quite a bit of wind generation and solar, but wind and solar still have the issues of intermittency,’’ he said.
“Put in a hundred megawatts of wind. But you’ve got to put in darn near a hundred megawatts of something else to back it up ... because otherwise you don’t know if it’s going to be there is you need it. To GRE’s credit, they’ve been doing things to try to innovate and get the most out of those units.’’
Froemming said he’s optimistic about the future of the energy industry.
“There are certainly challenges out there. But I don’t see the distribution companies going away or the power grid going away. I think there’s a place for distribution co-ops. In the short run, we’re going to continue like we are. We’re going to be the primary power provider. Even if solar and wind or other renewables come into play, we’re still going to be there as the backup in most cases,’’ he said.
Froemming said another reason he wanted the job was the workforce.
“We have a great group of employees,’’ he said, with many years of experience. As a result, the co-op is going through a number of retirements. Over the next five years, another half dozen will retire.
“One of my challenges is an orderly replacement of those folks, and getting good qualified folks with skills that are applicable looking forward to the challenges that we face in the future,’’ Froemming said.