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The area-coverage principle—the idea that electric co-ops, as democratic, not-for-profit businesses, should not limit their service to places where it’s easy to get a positive return on their investment—has motivated dozens of NRECA members to figure out ways to reach consumers living in some of the most sparsely populated and remote areas of the country.
It’s why Roseau Electric Cooperative decided, in 1973, to electrify the Northwest Angle, an isolated area on Minnesota’s border with Manitoba, Canada.
The Angle, as locals call it, is the only place where the continental United States sticks up above the 49th parallel—a bump on the international border resulting from a mapmaker’s error in 1783. Most of it is water, Lake of the Woods, popular with sport fishermen and bird watchers. The land part is accessible by boat or by car via windy back roads on the Manitoba side of the border. It’s an hour-and-a half drive north of the co-op’s headquarters in Roseau.
In the early ’70s, the 60 or so seasonal and year-round residents of the Angle began asking the co-op for help. They were tired of struggling with balky, noisy, expensive-to-operate home generators. General Manager Meredith Haslerud listened to them and then consulted with the Rural Electrification Administration in Washington and Roseau Electric’s power supplier, Minnkota Power Cooperative (G&T) in Grand Forks, North Dakota.
He saw three possible solutions: build a line from the nearest Manitoba Hydro substation; build a line from Minnkota Power’s delivery point in Warroad, Minnesota, near the international border; or build a small generating plant near the community of Angle Inlet.
The first two were soon rejected because construction and maintenance costs would be too high. But Minnkota Power agreed to build the plant even though it would be a money loser. According to the October 1973 issue of RE Magazine, Andy Freeman, the G&T’s legendary general manager, and his board of directors “viewed the situation not as a problem but as an opportunity to demonstrate clearly the area-coverage principle at work.”
The plant was close to completion that fall. Twin 115-kW diesel generators would soon be installed. With slight modifications, the powerhouse could accommodate up to three 500-kW units if demand grew.
“Great care has been taken to avoid damaging effects on the peaceful, unspoiled wilderness of the Angle Inlet area,” the article states. “Emission- control devices will minimize exhaust gases, and noise pollution will be cut by 900- pound mufflers to be installed on each engine.”
Roseau Electric’s distribution lines were mostly underground or underwater, generally following the Lake of the Woods shoreline. They would soon be extended to serve nearby Oak Island and Flag Island. On another front, the co-op was meeting with U.S. and Canadian authorities to see if it could serve a number of Native American homes on the Manitoba shore of the lake.
The co-op’s investment eventually approached $150,000, Minnkota’s $110,000. Only a portion of this was recovered over time, even though each consumer was required to pay $200 up front and commit to a monthly rate 2 cents higher per kilowatt-hour than the co-op’s basic farm rate. Even so, Angle consumers would spend “much less” on electricity than they did operating individual gasoline, propane, or diesel generators. And they’d have more power for household appliances and power tools as well as increased reliability.
For about six months in 1973, during construction of the Angle grid, three Roseau Electric linemen lived during the workweek at local hotel Peterson’s Camp (now called the Angle Outpost Resort). RE Magazine ran a photo of them being served a meal in the dining room. If it was hard being away from their families that long, they may have been consoled by the fact that some of the best muskie fishing anywhere was a short cast away, and on summer days, it was still light long after the workday ended.