Commitment to Community
At Minnesota Energy Resources, we have a social responsibility to our communities. We strive to enhance the quality of life for our customers by supporting organizations that promote the environment, health and human services, arts and culture, community and education. Minnesota Energy Resources' employees live in, work for and contribute to the communities we serve. We are a trusted neighbor and community partner and support programs that help make our communities great places to live.
- Natural Gas for More Of Our Neighbors
- Safety Starts With Your Gas Meter
- Keeping Systems and Data Safe & Secure
- Digging Deep For The Boys & Girls Club
- Making Greater Bemidji Even Greater
- Sharing The Heat
- Gas Detectors For Fire Departments
- Encouraging Supplier Diversity
- The Third Annual "It's Worth the Energy" Facebook Challenge
- Our Blood Drive: Recognized for Efficiency & Generosity
- A Minnesota Energy Resources Fish Tale
- Upgrading Skills To Better Serve Customers
- Doing The Right Thing, All The Time
- Delivering Essential Services
- Better Water For Our Communities
- Investing In Industrial Conservation
- The Neighborhood Energy Challenge: 1-2-3-Save!
- You Can Get Some Satisfaction
- Supporting the United Way
Natural Gas for More Of Our Neighbors
Our employees deliver natural gas to 165 communities across Minnesota. But there are still some areas in these communities where homes and businesses don't have access to natural gas. We'd like to change that.
Expanding natural gas service into new areas takes a fair amount of planning and hard work. But we think it's worth the effort to offer clean, cost-efficient natural gas to more of our neighbors.
In the Detroit Lakes area of Becker and Ottertail counties, we surveyed 1,534 property owners. They showed considerable interest in our expanding natural gas lines to the Lake Sallie, Lake Melissa and Pelican Lake areas. We've been busy studying ways to extend service to these areas, and we held a community meeting so area residents could learn more about the benefits of natural gas and what's involved in getting natural gas service.
Right now, an engineering firm is scoping out all necessary activities and costs associated with a project like this. The scoping phase includes studies in engineering, construction, environmental impacts, design and routing — everything needed to provide the area with a safe, reliable natural gas system. The studies are also needed to finalize project costs and gauge the continued level of interest among potential customers.
It's a long road, but the destination is one of the most economical energy choices available.
Safety Starts With Your Gas Meter
Most people don't think about their natural gas meters. We do, of course. We make sure the meters comply with all regulatory requirements. And more importantly, we want to know that the meters are in safe operating condition.
We are committed to safety at all times. Our Meter Inspection Program is an ongoing effort to ensure our facilities and yours are safe for years to come.
What do we look for on a meter? Inspections check for corrosion, proper protection from vehicles or other equipment that could damage the meter, and adequate support for the meter in its location.
In addition to our formal Meter Inspection Program, our meter readers visually inspect the meters monthly. They promptly report any issues needing follow-up or repairs. Since 2010, we've inspected meters for 210,000 homes and businesses.
Keeping Systems and Data Safe & Secure
We continually strive to protect systems and data at Minnesota Energy Resources. The best approach is to be informed and prepared.
- We comply with regulations aimed at protecting our energy delivery systems.
- We focus on protecting all company data, with significant emphasis on customer data.
- We made, and continue to make, investments to improve our security systems and processes.
- Our newly formed Corporate Security department, through our Chief Security Officer, oversees all security efforts.
- Experts from security, compliance, legal, customer relations and other areas at Minnesota Energy Resources ensure we follow all new regulations related to data privacy and security.
- We continually adapt our systems based on emerging security needs.
Digging Deep For The Boys & Girls Club
Things don't always go as planned. In Rochester, Minnesota, a $7 million construction project for The Boys & Girls Club hit a costly snag.
The project manager at The Boys & Girls Club, Ron Kreinbri, explained, "The project team found we could not provide a required ground cover for the existing natural gas main that ran through our property. It was apparent that the gas line needed to be lowered. The cost was projected to be in the $40,000 area and was a major financial burden to our project, since we try to make every dollar count for the good of the young people we serve."
When the project first rolled out, an elevation map indicated the natural gas lines would be deep enough to coexist safely with the project. During construction, the project elevations changed, and the ground cover above the natural gas line was going to be too shallow by about 12 inches. The only option to lowering the natural gas main at a cost of $40,000 was to reroute the main around the block. That had an even heftier price tag of more than $120,000.
In the end, Minnesota Energy Resources decided to bypass that section of main, routing natural gas through other lines in our system instead. We also lowered the newly inactive pipe to a level that worked with the project. In addition to digging, we did some serious number crunching and completed the work for $7,000. Kreinbri said it saved this very important community project from going into the negative. Finally, a $5,000 grant from Wisconsin Public Service Foundation on behalf of Minnesota Energy Resources helped support the project. During the day, the Headstart program uses the new building. In the evenings, it becomes The Boys & Girls Club. This partnership makes the most possible use of the building for the community.
Making Greater Bemidji Even Greater
We appreciate teamwork. That's why we provide annual financial support to Greater Bemidji, a team that promotes economic development in East Central Minnesota. Greater Bemidji represents the nine cities that make up Beltrami County. It's the team's goal to bring high-wage, technology-based jobs to the area and generally improve the business climate. These business leaders know the success of their neighboring communities affects their own community. As a company doing business in the area, we're proud to support this winning team.
Sharing the Heat
In 2013, Minnesota Energy Resources and our customers contributed $15,025 to the HeatShare Fund. These contributions include one-time donations from our customers, continuous monthly giving with customers' bill payments, as well as matching funds from Minnesota Energy Resources.
But we know helping requires more than money. We also provide campaign volunteers and our support throughout the year.
Gas Detectors For Fire Departments
We regularly work with fire departments to ensure public safety. So when it came to our attention that three local departments could use help buying a critical piece of equipment, we answered the call. We made donations to the volunteer fire departments in Eagan, Proctor and Deerwood, Minnesota, so they could buy gas detectors.
The detectors measure natural gas and carbon monoxide levels at emergency scenes. Having this information when firefighters arrive on the scene is vital for the safety of the public as well as for the firefighters themselves. The readings can help them analyze the situation. And they can identify false alarms, avoiding unneeded visits by Minnesota Energy Resources.
Encouraging Supplier Diversity
Doing business with diverse businesses brings economic growth. It develops a greater number of qualified sources of supply for us. Finally, it increases the tax base in the communities we serve. That's why we support doing business with minority, women-owned, veteran-owned and service-disabled veteran-owned enterprises.
How? We use local and national diverse business directories as part of our sourcing process. We also track and maintain records of diverse companies we do business with. And we participate in a range of supplier trade shows and conferences in the communities we serve.
The Third Annual "It's Worth the Energy" Facebook Challenge
How would you use $3,000 to better serve your community? In 2013, we posed that question to nonprofit organizations for a third year in a row. Groups could submit proposals for projects to improve the community in one of three areas: Environment, Community or Human Services. Then our Facebook followers voted on the top three project ideas, which were chosen by an independent panel of judges.
The first-place winner was Headwaters Science Center in Bemidji, Minnesota. The center will use its $3,000 grant to support science outreach programs for preschool through middle school students whose school districts have limited funds for field trips.
Second place went to The Boys & Girls Club and Child Care Resource and Referral Partnership in Rochester. Their $2,000 grant will build a new space to support youth ages birth to 18. Child Care Resource and Referral will use the facility during the day, with The Boys & Girls Club using the space in the evening, doubling the capacity to serve kids. Third place went to 360 Communities, in Burnsville, which will use its $1,000 to stock food shelves and support family resource centers for people who suddenly find themselves in crisis. 360 Communities expects to assist about 11,000 people in 2013.
It was energizing to get the online Facebook community involved in voting for their favorite organization. And in the end, all three organizations, as well as the communities they serve, came out winners.
Our Blood Drive: Recognized for Efficiency & Generosity
For two years, we've held an annual blood drive at our Rochester, Minnesota, office. Our employees have donated 38 units of blood so far, and more importantly, many of them have been inspired to donate at other times of the year, too. Maybe it's because they learned how quick and easy it can be to donate. So quick, in fact, that in the past, Minnesota Energy Resources was recognized for being Mayo Clinic's "Most Efficient Blood Drive."
A blood drive is efficient if the units of blood collected per hour per technician are equal to or greater than 1. Our efficiency rate has been 2, and that included 15 first-time donors!
A Minnesota Energy Resources Fish Tale
The International Falls Bass Championship reeled in our "silver" sponsorship support for its sixth annual fishing tournament in 2013. This two-day event features teams of two competing on two bodies of water. Thousands of people come out to catch the fun of this premier bass fishing event, which is great for the local economy. We're proud to have a line in on it.
Upgrading Skills To Better Serve Customers
Our "field employees" are our boots on the ground. To ensure they're always providing the best and safest service possible, these employees need to keep their specialized skills up to date. In short, they have to be prepared for whatever challenges come their way.
In late 2012, field operations and ServiceChoice® employees began the Gas Distribution Operations Review training course. This 32-hour course covered the most current information on regulatory and company procedures, best practices, customer service and the use of industry equipment.
Then, in August 2013, field operations and ServiceChoice employees began the Intermediate Gas Distribution Operations Review training course. This 22-hour course covered advanced natural gas distribution topics such as valve maintenance, purging, cathodic protection and coating maintenance – terms the average person doesn't need to know because Minnesota Energy Resources' field employees have them covered.
Doing The Right Thing, All The Time
It's one thing to have a Code of Conduct. A lot of companies do. It's quite another to make an effort to ensure every employee understands the code and lives it.
We don't think an ethics program can be called a success until everyone commits to its long-term success. So we put the time and effort into making that happen.
We communicate to everyone at our company, including our board of directors, about our core values. We're committed to upholding the highest ethical standards in everything we say and do. And we train employees in our Code of Conduct biannually. Then we confirm their understanding of what the code means for their daily work. Anyone just coming on board quickly learns what we mean when we say, "Doing the Right Thing, All the Time."
Investing that time and effort helps us earn and maintain the trust of customers, shareholders, fellow utilities, government officials and the communities we serve.
Of course, part of doing the right thing is complying with government regulations. Our internal compliance network of leaders helps ensure company practices meet the letter and spirit of all laws, rules and regulations. Because of this, we welcome review by government officials at the local, county, state and federal levels, because we know we operate our business in full compliance.
Delivering Essential Services
Minnesota Energy Resources' employees are proud to know the natural gas they help deliver is an important part of people's lives. It's more than natural gas – it's warmth, comfort and the energy to succeed. Everybody wants to get the most for their hard-earned money. Our customers do, too. The good news is, it generally costs less to heat a home with natural gas than any other energy source. So our customers are getting a value simply by choosing natural gas.
Better Water For Our Communities
Cleaner water. Fewer floods. That's what the Zumbro Watershed Project is working toward. We think these are very worthy goals, and we're proud to have awarded this nonprofit, grassroots organization a $2,500 grant in 2013. The money will be used for water education and conservation efforts.
Investing In Industrial Conservation
Our customers are always looking for ways to save energy. In Park Rapids, Minnesota, the Lamb Weston/RDO Frozen Food Plant is one customer with big ideas about conserving. Lamb Weston is North America's premier supplier of frozen potato, sweet potato, appetizer and other vegetable products for the food service and retail industries. And they're as committed to corporate citizenship and energy efficiency as Minnesota Energy Resources is. The approximately 40 employees at the 225,000-square-foot Park Rapids facility are always looking for ways to save energy, and in 2013, a heat recovery project brought in annual savings of 253,605 therms.
The extraordinary savings were the result of Lamb Weston adding a heat exchanger to its potato processing line. The exchanger uses heat given off by chillers to increase the temperature of the water used to process potatoes, including the water that makes its way to the plant's boiler.
The Park Rapids plant also uses a state-of-the-art waste treatment facility that generates renewable energy in the form of biogas from an anaerobic digester. The heat exchanger upgrade improved this process as well. Here's how: Waste is dumped into the digester, which contains microbes that eat the starches and clean the water of the waste particles. At higher temperatures, the microbes break down foodstuffs faster, and more efficiently. This means an increase in the microbes' daily methane output. Lamb Weston already used the methane to displace some of its natural gas needs. But thanks to the heat exchanger, more methane is produced and the need for natural gas is further decreased. The estimated 5˚ F increase in digester temperature increased its efficiency by roughly18%. The result is a decrease in the plant's natural gas use by 63,547 therms per year.
While the energy savings are impressive, the cost of the heat exchanger topped $1 million. That's a lot of potatoes! So Minnesota Energy Resources partnered with Lamb Weston by providing grants of about $445,000. It's just one example of how we at Minnesota Energy Resources value energy efficiency in our own operations and help our customers do the same.
The Neighborhood Energy Challenge: 1-2-3-Save!
Minnesota Energy Resources and Rochester Public Utilities teamed up with the Center for Energy and Environment in 2013 to once again offer Rochester homeowners the Neighborhood Energy Challenge.
The energy challenge is a three-step process.
- Free Workshop. At least 300 people attended a workshop on ways to stop energy waste. Most had a good visit with their neighbors at the same time. And they left with "free stuff," including compact fluorescent bulbs and receptacle gaskets.
- Home Energy Audit. For those who attended a workshop and requested an audit, our crews ran diagnostic tests in their home, installed energy-saving materials and found the best opportunities for reducing energy use and bills.
- Connect With Contractors. If our crews found opportunities for significant savings by insulating, sealing an attic or replacing equipment, they connected homeowners with qualified contractors and programs. In short, we tried to make it as easy as 1-2-3.
You Can Get Some Satisfaction
No one can please everyone all the time, but we come pretty close with our Conservation Improvement Program. A whopping 99% of those who received water-saving kits from Minnesota Energy Resources' program said they'd recommend the program to others. And 97% said they were "satisfied" or "very satisfied" with their free low-flow showerhead. We provide free water-conservation kits to help our customers save water, energy and money. And yes, it's very satisfying.
Supporting the United Way
Minnesota Energy Resources has a long history of supporting United Way by making company contributions, facilitating employee and retiree gifts, and providing voluntary leadership. We appreciate and value what United Way does to help the communities where we serve and live.
Each fall we host a United Way campaign. It includes employee rallies and special events that raise awareness and funds for our local United Way. By supporting United Way we are helping to advance the common good of our community by focusing on the building blocks of a good life.