History comes full circle as co-ops take over IOU territory

Norris history 2More than 80 years ago investor-owned ­utilities served cities and small towns passing by rural farms they ­considered too few and far between to be ­profitable to serve. Today that ­historical decision is coming full circle in some areas.

Just a few years ago ­investor-owned utility Alliant Energy sold some of its service territory to Jo-Carroll Energy and Rock Energy Cooperative in northern Illinois. Last month it was announced that Southern Minnesota Energy Cooperative (SMEC) received state regulatory approval to acquire Alliant Energy’s Minnesota electric service territory.

Southern Minnesota Energy Cooperative (SMEC) was formed by 12 electric distribution ­cooperatives as a single point of contact for the proposed purchase of electric ­service territory in southern Minnesota from Alliant Energy. The 12 SMEC ­member cooperatives are BENCO Electric Cooperative, Brown County Rural Electrical Association, Federated Rural Electric, Freeborn-Mower Cooperative Services, Minnesota Valley Electric Cooperative, Nobles Cooperative Electric, People’s Energy Cooperative, Redwood Electric Cooperative, Sioux Valley Energy, South Central Electric, Steele-Waseca Cooperative Electric and Tri-County Electric Cooperative.

“Our co-ops, 80 years ago, were formed ­primarily because we couldn’t get electric service extended into the rural areas,” said Brian Krambeer, CEO of Tri-County Electric Cooperative in Rushford and head of the co-op buyers group. “Today we’re actually having an opportunity to buy out the investor-owned utility that weaved through southern Minnesota.”