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Boreal Community Media

Arrowhead Electric - 70 Years Bringing Power and the Internet to Cook County

Sep 28, 2023 11:43AM ● By Content Editor

Photo provided by Arrowhead Cooperative

By Steve Fernlund for Boreal Community Media - September 28, 2023

Arrowhead Cooperative is a member-owned electricity and broadband provider in Lutsen, MN. It started in 1953 after the closure of Lutsen Power & Light, a pioneer in bringing electricity to local businesses and residents on the North Shore. 

Deliberately and efficiently, Arrowhead has grown over the last seven decades to serve its members and the community effectively. 

History of Electrification

In the early 1900s, several companies that generated electricity emerged to serve the timber industry, mining interests, and the towns and cities forming in northeastern Minnesota. For the vast rural areas, though, getting power to residents wasn’t feasible until the mid-1930s when Congress created the Rural Electrification Administration (REA) to provide low-cost loans and other assistance to bring electricity to consumers.

Arrowhead has produced an informative video on its history that you can find below. 

Arrowhead Cooperative Facebook Page


Governed by a seven-person Board of Directors elected by its members, Arrowhead now has 4,498 electricity customers, 3,794 broadband accounts, and 1,498 traditional phone lines.

Arrowhead is one of 900 electric cooperatives in the United States. Like its peers, Arrowhead aims to support and empower its members and communities throughout its service area. Membership is open to everyone, and members are encouraged to participate in setting policies and priorities through their elected representatives. 

Arrowhead recognizes that Cooperatives serve their members most effectively and strengthen the cooperative movement by working with other cooperatives.

Great River Energy is the wholesale power provider for Arrowhead. It is a member-owned cooperative providing power to its 27 member cooperatives. It is also the second-largest electric utility in Minnesota. 

Arrowhead President and board member Mike Littfin also sits on the Great River board.

Today, Arrowhead has 634 miles of power lines in its service area. Over 300 of those are underground. It operates five substations to transform high-voltage transmissions into distribution-level voltages for its members. These are in Schroeder, Lutsen, Cascade, Maple Hill, and Colvill.

72 Arrowhead members are making Renewable Energy Interconnections today, connecting their renewable energy sources to the grid.

Electric heat is a popular option on the North Shore to keep warm in the winter. Arrowhead has about 1,200 members using interruptable or off-peak heating.  During the busiest time of the day, late afternoon and early evening, heating systems can go offline and stop using electricity. This reduction in demand benefits the cooperative with savings on its electric bill—members in the program benefit from a reduced rate for participating. 

“Up here on the North Shore, heating accounts for a significant portion of members’ electric bills, so it’s a great way to reduce our demand and save our members money,” wrote Sara McManus, Member Services Manager.


In the early 2000s, a study found that Cook County ranked last among Minnesota counties for internet connectivity, giving the county an “underserved” rating for broadband telecommunications.  At the time, county residents and businesses had limited access to high-speed internet.

Arrowhead’s CEO at the time, Don Stead, thought the Cooperative, with its commitment to the community, was uniquely positioned to address broadband connections for its members. After careful review, Arrowhead’s board agreed and received over $16 million in federal grants and low-interest loans and began the installation of Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) in its service area in 2010. A division of Arrowhead, True North Broadband, now Arrowhead Broadband, was created to manage and market the service.

A business case study of Arrowhead’s broadband decisions published in 2018 by the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA) said, “With approximately seven customers per mile of electric line, AEC is the epitome of a rural electric cooperative…The scenario (broadband) is reminiscent of the 1930s when electricity service was equally hard to get in such remote areas.”

Consolidated Telecommunications Cooperative(CTC) out of Brainerd, MN, provides broadband services for Arrowhead.

In 2020, Arrowhead participated in the Digital Opportunity Fund auction process offered by the FCC. It successfully won an $18.4 million grant to build out broadband in areas that are currently unserved. Grant dollars are paid out over ten years, and Arrowhead has stated milestones to reach by year three and each year after that to receive the full grant.

Broadband access is a significant benefit to this growing community. 

 Arrowhead Cooperative Facebook Page


The People

Arrowhead has 26 employees, including support staff, linemen, broadband specialists, and management. 

John Twiest, CEO/General Manager; Jenny Kartes, Director of Finance and Administration; Taylor Crocker, Operations Manager; and Sara McManus, Member Services Manager, provide leadership. 

Cook County suffered an intense Christmas blizzard in December of 2022. Starting the morning of December 23, it experienced winds of 30 mph with gusts as high as 74 mph that lasted more than 48 hours. As expected, the winds caused significant damage to power and fiber services with snow, ice, and wind. Throughout the storm, every member was impacted by multiple transmission outages. 

Cooperative staff worked around the clock during the storm and into Christmas Day to restore power to members. Six additional linemen were brought in from a contractor Arrowhead works with to assist in recovery. 

Working with its wholesale power provider, Great River Energy, these large-scale transmission outages were addressed quickly and safely. 

Beyond the initial transmission outages, the storm resulted in numerous recurring outages, at least ten broken poles, and many lines downed by trees felled by the high winds. 

Related: Cook County community members share words of thanks to those who keep us safe during winter storms

 Arrowhead Cooperative Facebook Page 

The Members

When the cooperative has positive operating margins at the end of a year, those dollars are allocated to the members. As the cooperative’s financial position permits, Arrowhead retires or pays a portion of these Capital Credits back to its members. In 2023, Arrowhead began allocating broadband margins to subscribers as well. 

Arrowhead is holding a series of Membership Appreciation Events this year. Members are encouraged to attend and learn about what the Cooperative has accomplished this year and the plans for years to come.

Each Friday beginning October 6,  Arrowhead will serve lunch (hamburgers) for members from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on the following days/locations: 

  • Friday, October 6, at the Schaap Community Center on the Gunflint Trail; 

  • Friday, October 13, at the Grand Portage Community Center;

  • Friday, October 27, at the Arrowhead Cooperative Office in Lutsen.

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