Great River Energy, headquartered in Elk River, Minn. is Minnesota's second largest electric utility based on generating capacity, and the fourth largest generation and transmission cooperative in the U.S. in terms of assets. GRE provides wholesale electrical service to 28 distribution cooperatives across Minnesota and part of Wisconsin. Those member cooperatives distribute electricity to approximately 580,000 homes, businesses and farms serving 1.3 million people. GRE’s North Dakota coal-based generating plants—Coal Creek Station at Underwood and Stanton Station at Stanton—generate 80% of the electricity it distributes and employ half of GRE’s employees. The plants are among the most innovative in the industry, making continuous improvements in operations and environmental management. This spirit of innovation is only possible with a well-educated, motivated workforce. Great River Energy was nominated by Bismarck State College as an exemplary example of how industry partnerships improve technical education for students. Through its long association with Bismarck State College, GRE provides educational experiences for students that benefit the student and the company. While the student learns what he/she needs to know to be successful, the company ensures a well-trained, viable workforce for the future.
The award was accepted on behalf of Great River Energy by Henry Hanson, chair of the Board of Directors for GRE since 2000. He joined the Cooperative Power Board of Directors in 1993. Also present were John Weeda and John Pelerine.
Energy production is a major industry in North Dakota and in the best tradition of community colleges, Bismarck State College has responded to the specialized training needs of the industry. Created in 1976, the Power Plant Technology Program was the first program of its type in the country, followed by the Process Plant Technology Program, created in 1981. In 1999, at the request of industry, BSC began to offer these courses on-line as well as onsite.
At about the same time, BSC partnered with GRE, the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) and Honeywell to place a $1.2 million power plant simulator on campus (GRE makes an annual contribution of approximately $80,000 for maintenance, warranty and service contracts for the simulator). This simulator is used to train GRE employees, provide workforce training opportunities to external markets, and is used by the on-campus students in their program curriculum. The simulator has such high demand, that a second simulator will soon be placed on campus - made possible by Stanton Station, a GRE power plant located in Stanton, North Dakota.
GRE takes great pride in conducting its business with an eye toward conserving resources through environmental stewardship, pollution prevention, waste minimization, recycling and reuse. The Coal Creek Station produces fly ash, a coal combustion byproduct that can be used to replace a portion of cement in concrete production. Making good use of this byproduct will result in substantial savings of landfill disposal costs and a reduction in greenhouse gases.
In partnership with GRE's Coal Creek Station, BSC is using fly ash materials to construct a new building on campus - the Career & Technology Institute (CTI). The CTI will be home to BSC's growing energy programs and GRE will be donating a large portion of the fly ash for the project. The CTI will be a showcase of the newest technology for turning energy industry byproducts into marketable products. This building will be designated "green" for its environmentally-friendly construction using fly ash. Students of BSC, Bismarck-Mandan area businesses and the energy industry will see firsthand how this byproduct can be used as the primary component of the construction material FlexCrete. In the past, fly ash was simply buried in landfills; with the cutting-edge technology on display at the CTI, it's turned into high ¬quality construction material. Without a solid relationship with Great River Energy, BSC would not have this unique opportunity.
GRE recognizes that every community needs a well-educated workforce. The energy industry in North Dakota depends on this human resource to continue operating. In the BSC on-line Power Plant and Process Plant Technology programs, students are required to log 80 hours of hands-on activities. GRE offers this hands-on experience to BSC students through a job-shadowing program where students spend two weeks at the North Dakota plants working closely with their personnel. Under the watchful eye of a GRE mentor, students complete a competency workbook during this time that is part of their course work. This is an integral part of their education and provides the students with an experience that will benefit them as they begin their own careers in the energy industry.
Providing educational experiences for students benefits the student and the power plant. The student is provided with invaluable learning experiences and the plant ensures a viable workforce for the future. This is an opportunity for both arenas - the college and industry - to come together to ensure the student is learning what he/she needs to know in order to be successful and productive on the job. GRE representatives actively participate on BSC advisory committees for curriculum development. There are advisory committees for instrumentation and maintenance programs, as well as power plant and process plant programs. GRE’s impact on technical education can be felt when the student become the employee, supplying America’s energy.