MCOC Member Spotlight:
Lower Yellowstone Rural Electric Cooperative
MCDC Communications Specialist
Who They Are
Like many electric cooperatives across Montana and the nation, Lower Yellowstone Rural Electric Cooperative (LYREC) was incorporated following the passage of the Rural Electrification Act (REA) by Congress in 1936. Farmers and ranchers across rural Montana, including Richland County, did not have electricity up in until that time. In 1937 LYREC was established and headquartered in the Eastern Montana community of Sidney. Today, they provide power to people living in Dawson, Richland, and Roosevelt counties in Montana and McKenzie and Williams Counties in North Dakota. As an electric distribution cooperative, LYREC receives approximately 90% of their power from Basin Electric Power Cooperative and the other 10 % comes from Western Area Power Administration. LYREC employees 31 full time employees. LYREC has grown to serve approximately 2,350 members and services over 6,100 meters.
Cooperation Among Two Electric Cooperatives
Since its humble beginnings, LYREC has grown in membership and service territory across two states. They also developed a unique relationship in 2016 when another Eastern Montana electric cooperative approached LYREC for assistance. Located up-river from LYREC, Mid-Yellowstone Electric Cooperative (MYEC), headquartered in Hysham, proposed an agreement to share management services. The boards of both LYREC and MYEC held several joint meetings to discuss the proposal and eventually signed a temporary shared management services agreement in early 2016. However, both electric cooperatives remained separate autonomous entities with their own governing boards under the agreement.
“Since entering into this shared services agreement, we have become more powerful and more efficient in our management and operations,” explained LYREC General Manager Jason Brothen. “Both co-ops buying power has also improved by working together, like purchasing electric poles, transformers and other equipment. Together we buy enough to get price brakes.” He went on to explain that the agreement also allows lineman from both co-ops to assist with regular maintenance, such as pole replacements and line upgrades. “We sent our lineman down to Mid-Yellowstone Electric on a project where they needed assistance on getting new poles put up in an area with rough terrain and we had the equipment to help them do the job.”
The agreement was later extended and expanded to include other services between the two electric co-ops, to include information technology (IT) and operations. Brothen said, “The shared management services continued to evolve to where the two co-ops now collaborate on IT, budgeting and policy-making.”
The two cooperatives have found that their relationship has also helped in times of crisis, such as severe weather events. “Back in 2017, an ice storm knocked out power in Mid-Yellowstone’s service territory and LYREC sent down some lineman to help their lineman restore power,” explained Brothen. He has seen employees from both co-ops grow together, professionally. “When you work together, you get a better understanding of each other’s culture and it greatly improves working relationships between the cooperatives.”
“The other major benefit to working so close together,” said Brothen, “is how much the employees from both co-ops learn together from refining policies, to looking over contracts, and improving services for members that can save money and make operations safer and more efficient for employees.”
Providing a Vital Service for Economic Development in the Region
The Bakken Oil Boom of the 2000’s dramatically increased the small electric cooperative’s electric load as LYREC brought in new members from the oil and gas industry. Today, LYREC’s service territory stretches beyond Richland County in Eastern Montana to serve members in Western North Dakota.
Brothen explained that today, about 80% of LYREC’s electricity load goes to service their commercial accounts. Those commercial accounts comprise of LYREC members that include oil and gas companies in addition to the other rural businesses that also get their electricity from the co-op. “During the ‘Bakken Boom’, we did a very good job of adapting to our changing membership,” he explains. Brothen added, “We pride ourselves on being accommodating, so, when a new business venture or resident comes into our service area, we act fairly quickly to get them power.”
LYREC also provides electricity for agriculturally-based businesses that rely on power for farming, processing and irrigation. Brothen added, “You need your electricity to run your pumps for irrigation. You need your electricity to run your pumps for oil and gas and you need it for heat and to keep the lights on, whether you are a business or a resident.”
Richland Economic Development Corporation Executive Director Leslie Messer expressed her organization’s appreciation for LYREC’s involvement in the community. “LYREC is a fantastic community-invested member of our whole region. They have reached out and helped with grants. Volunteers from their staff have helped out in any given situation affecting the community. We are so thankful to have a cooperative that leads the way such as LYREC.” Messer added, “I truly appreciate Jason serving on the Richland Economic Development Corporation Board of Directors. The experience and knowledge he brings help us, as economic developers, keep a pulse on the issues affecting the electric cooperatives, including LYREC. “