Minnesota Power

Public Education

Hometown Hydropower Rededication to Service

Summary

Minnesota Power - Hometown Hydropower_Island Lake ReservoirMinnesota Power launched “Hometown Hydropower” in May 2014 to help raise the public profile of the company’s hydroelectric system. The initiative came about two years after historic floodwaters raced down the St. Louis River, severely damaging Thomson Hydro, the heart of the company’s hydropower system, and forcing it offline.

In advance of Thomson’s return to service in November 2014, Minnesota Power decided to rededicate its entire hydroelectric system by highlighting individual hydro stations and reservoirs. “Hometown Hydropower” recognized the important role hydroelectric operations play in providing renewable energy to customers and celebrated more than a century of producing hydropower.

The initiative included a series of facility tours and public events at communities that host Minnesota Power’s hydro stations and reservoirs, creation of a commemorative medallion and time capsule, development of a website devoted to Minnesota Power hydropower, creation and distribution of a variety of educational fact sheets, installation of an outdoor informational sign at a popular reservoir, and donations totaling almost $90,000 to various community projects and organizations.

Background

Minnesota Power has invested heavily in its hydroelectric system in the past decade, especially at Thomson Hydro, the electric utility’s largest hydro station. After being damaged during the historic flooding in June 2012, company personnel worked to repair, renew and modernize the facility.

The flooding and related repairs brought a new level of public awareness to Thomson and by extension to Minnesota Power’s entire hydroelectric system. For decades, the hydro stations and associated reservoirs had quietly provided electricity and recreational opportunities. Here was an opportunity to publicly celebrate the company’s historical commitment to renewable energy and to the customers it serves.

Minnesota Power has 11 hydroelectric stations and 17 reservoirs, including six headwaters storage reservoirs, on three main river systems in Minnesota. The company has been producing hydropower for more than a century.

Hydroelectricity plays a vital role in how Minnesota Power is meeting the state of Minnesota’s renewable energy standards. The company’s EnergyForward strategy relies on hydropower, together with investments in other renewable energy, to build a more sustainable energy future.

Challenges

The company’s hydro facilities and reservoirs span hundreds of miles and operate in communities of varying size and demographic makeup. Minnesota Power called on employees throughout the hydro system to help personalize each event to the community or facility, while still tying in the key themes of delivering renewable hydropower, upgrading and rebuilding for the next century of service, and being proud to serve the customer and community. A simple ice cream social was appropriate at Prairie River while the company participated in a longstanding community festival in Ely, Minn., to highlight its nearby Winton facility.

A steering committee directed overall planning and employees were responsible for ensuring the success of each of the nine events. All of the communications—from event invitations to website development—were researched, written and designed by MP employees.

Innovation

Minnesota Power took an operations challenge—returning a flood-damaged hydro facility to production—and used it as a springboard to help educate the public about hydropower and the company’s hydroelectric system and strengthen relationships with customers and other stakeholders.

“Hometown Hydropower” told the story of Minnesota Power’s hydroelectric system through a variety of platforms, including facility tours, ice cream socials, barbecues, and printed educational materials. While the events and celebrations are over, other aspects of “Hometown Hydropower,” such as the popular commemorative medallion and website (www.mphydro.com), will continue to help generate interest in hydropower for some time.

Results

“Hometown Hydropower” got off to a strong start in May 2014 with an event at the company’s Fond du Lac Hydro station. About 100 dignitaries, employees, community members and others turned out for lunch, speeches and tours of the station and adjacent dam. By late summer, reports from other tours and events suggested that people were interested in hydroelectricity and its role in providing power. A company official at the event in Little Falls noted that many tour-goers were “amazed that we had so many hydro facilities.”

Over the course of about six months, hundreds of people learned about how Minnesota Power produces hydroelectricity near the communities where they live and work. The series of community events elevated the public profile of the hydroelectric system and strengthened Minnesota Power’s relationships and goodwill with residents, customers and other stakeholders.

Stakeholders

“Over the life of the project, MP was confronted with numerous engineering challenges and an unprecedented weather event. The successful completion of this project exemplifies the hard work and dedication of the Minnesota Power staff and represents a great example of how the federal government can partner with industry to create jobs and bring our hydropower infrastructure into the 21st century.”

– Jose Zayas, director of the U.S. Department of Energy’s Wind and Water Power Technologies Office, referring to a turbine replacement at Fond du Lac Hydro. His written remarks were part of the Fond du Lac celebration in May 2014.

“Hello again from Ely, Minn., and bushel baskets of thanks for the great job you did, not only explaining the history here, but including info about what MP is doing across the state, working on new projects, etc. Good PR is always a benefit, especially when one thinks about what MN Power achieves for us personally every day, minute, and hour of our lives!”

– Lolita Schnitzius, an Ely resident and former Ely mayor