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Boreal Community Media

Arrowhead Electric board of director positions to be contested

May 18, 2018 09:22AM ● By Editor
By Brian Larsen of the Cook County News Herald - May 18, 2018

It has been awhile since the Arrowhead Electric Board of Directors has had a contested election, but this year six candidates are vying for three seats on the board. And while all elections are important, in the wake of Arrowhead Electric’s general manager Joe Pandy’s recent resignation, this election could carry added significance.


In the Colvill area, Hillary Freeman and Bob Nesheim are running for the seat left open by Sharon Bloomquist, who is seeking to move out of her district and closer to, or into Grand Marais. 

When asked why he was running Bob Nesheim said, “Four years ago, Marlys and I renovated the 32-year-old hostelry here at Pincushion B&B, set within ski and hiking trails just above Grand Marais. We’ve rebuilt three rural houses over the years and receive capital credits from co-ops in rural Olmsted and Lake counties, so distribution by AEC through underground service was very familiar—we’ve trenched and cabled plenty of outbuildings, slowly learning to call first. We were pleasantly surprised to find True North’s fast fiberoptic internet allows for a great on-line web presence and fast, efficient guest scheduling and billing.

“My childhood neighbor was the engineer who ran the local steam turbine power plant, so plant tours and used-firebrick patios were common. I’ve wired-up gadgets all my life and was sent off to tour (don’t touch) a nuclear plant in high school. Nosing around the effluent streams at Monticello and Becker/ Sherco was a Mississippi canoe project, back when the guards were less twitchy. We’d love to do a 5kw solar array on our south roof and defray maybe half our average draw — but cost/benefit is not yet favorable.

“So I’m now the I.T. and maintenance guy at the B &B — but only after a long career as a physician and medical director, including community service on local and statewide nonprofit boards and their finance, executive, development and environmental/legislative committees. I am equally interested in the technical and the community-financial aspects of power distribution — and remain impressed by the timely arrival of fast fiber just before we landed here.

“AEC must keep services reliable and affordable for small business and residential members, while meeting or exceeding the evolving state requirements regarding diversified energy sources. Supporting staff safety and keeping up with advances in technical hardware are basic infrastructure priorities. AEC’s record of reliable 24/7 power and broadband service encourages rural living and has allowed the renewal of our visitor business up here. I’d be pleased to contribute my hands-on background and board executive, technical and advocacy experience to the AEC.”

Hillary Freeman, who lives in Colvill, said she was “running for this board for several reasons.

“As a master gardener in Cook County and one who has been involved with renewable energy, I see the effects of climate change on the environment. I believe we need to look at renewable and affordable energy options in addition to using fossil fuel. I also believe that safety is an important aspect, not only ensure that customers and businesses but also workers are safe. I have been at fires where the linemen are present; they sometimes have to cut the power lines or deal with fallen lines. 

“Another area of concern is the need for reliable service ensuring that we can depend on the system and reduce outages. I am also running because as Arrowhead Cooperative gives back to the community in terms of grants, I would like to give back in terms of my time as well as talents.

“I have had volunteer experience of being a board member for both the YMCA Cook County Board and the Library Board, having served as chair of both boards and would bring that experience as well of leadership and consensus building. I have been involved in energy audit work and interested in evolving and expanding forms of renewable energy.

“I think this is a unique time to be on the board because the current CEO has just resigned and being on the board would provide an opportunity to find leadership that understands the effect of climate change and works to provide various forms of renewable energy and how we work with Great River Energy. The other area that is also important is how are the seven principles of the Cooperative implemented in relationship to the mission of Arrowhead Electric which is to provide customers with consistently reliable, completely safe, and environmentally friendly electrical power.”

Incumbent Stan Tull is being challenged by Inger Andress to see who will represent the Pike Lake territory while Chris O’ Brien is trying to become the representative of the Maple Hill region in his bid to unseat incumbent Mike Littfin who is seeking a third term.

Arrowhead Electric Cooperative’s board is made up of seven members. Each director serves a term of three years and can serve a maximum of four terms.

When asked why she was running Inger Andress replied, “Cook County has always been “home” to me ever since I was a very young child where I lived with my grandmother, Inet Lundin, every summer when school was let out. The community has given much life to me over the years, so that it’s now time to tangibly give back something to our community.”

Tull was succinct in his response. “My largest concern is to make sure our little co-op located at the end of the line stays in business. We have, what, something like five customers per mile? I’m not sure about that number, but we serve 3,500 members and have 600 miles of line to maintain. We have to maintain reliable service and keep our costs as low as we can for the customers we serve. It’s not easy.

“I’m proud of our high speed Internet True North Broadband. By offering that service to the public people can work from their homes. It’s a valuable addition to the area.”

Mike Littfin said he wants to make sure Arrowhead provides reliable electricity at the best rate possible for its customers. He said he was proud of the agency’s efforts to produce renewable energy, noting that Great River Energy—who is Arrowhead’s electrical provider—is now at 25 percent of its electrical production through wind and solar—and plans to produce half of its power (50 percent) through these same methods by 2050.

Chris O’Brien is a retired executive living near Grand Marais. For most of his career, he was responsible for strategic planning, business development and policy advocacy for leading global suppliers of solar energy equipment. Previously, he managed the launch of EPA’s Energy Star Buildings Program and was an energy project developer. Early in his career, Chris was a Peace Corps volunteer and training director in West Africa. Chris has an engineering degree and an MBA.

Chris and his wife Jane have been Arrowhead members and part-time Cook County residents since 2001. They moved to Cook County full time in 2016. They have four adult children.

Chris is active in the community, on several boards including North Superior Ski and Run Club, Cook County Local Energy Project, Cook County Community Fund and First Congregational Church. Chris also serves on the board of Fresh Energy in St. Paul, and has past Board leadership experience with energy trade associations in Washington, D.C.

When asked why he wanted to serve on the Arrowhead Electric Cooperative board Chris responded, “There are several challenges/opportunities where I feel I could add value to Arrowhead.

*Clean energy strategy and reduced carbon footprint. There is an exciting transition underway to cleaner energy technologies like wind, solar and electric vehicles, driven by competitive prices and environmental/climate concerns. Arrowhead can be a catalyst for change in this area, capitalizing on new and affordable clean energy options. Chris has decades of experience in understanding these technology, policy and market trends.

*Business growth. Arrowhead needs to leverage its past investments and expand revenues from non-traditional businesses like broadband services. Chris has experience and expertise in financial analysis of new business opportunities.

*Community partnerships. Chris can help Arrowhead to develop stronger partnerships with community groups where there are shared interests.

The annual meeting will be held Saturday, June 9 from 8:30 a.m. to 10 a.m. at the Arrowhead Center for the Arts.

Ballots, which are included in the annual report, can be mailed (to arrive by Friday, June 8th), delivered to the annual meeting, or voting can take place at the annual meeting.

All Arrowhead Cooperative members can vote for each district (all three seats).