North Star Electric Cooperative is among cooperatives lobbying for the Ratepayer Protection Act, a “time-out” in enforcement of the Clean Power Plan announced Aug. 3 by Pres. Barack Obama and the Environmental Protection Agency.

The Clean Power Plan is meant to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from power plants in order to combat climate change.

North Star Cooperative General Manager Ann Ellis, who met Tuesday with the Koochiching County Board, said she is “stunned” by the plan, especially since North Star is meeting or exceeding current air-quality standards.

North Star buys electricity from Minnkota Power Cooperative Inc., Grand Forks, N.D. So North Star members may be subject to North Dakota's order to reduce emissions 45 percent by 2030.

The EPA said last year that North Dakota must reduce emissions by 11 percent.

“We're not sure how this can be achievable without the closure or reduction of coal power plants,” Ellis said. “We need to retain coal in the background, so that we always have power.

“When you increase renewables to the point that you're trying to run a coal-fired plant in a way it's not designed to run, you're going to have problems. You can't control Mother Nature's wind and sun output,” she said.

Ellis said the sale of kilowatt hours has been stagnant, but the wholesale cost of power is quickly increasing, “because we're helping people use less.”

“It's a conundrum when you're in an industry where you're telling people to use less of the product you're selling,” she said. “That puts more pressure on the rates themselves. So it's a challenge right now, trying to do the right thing. And that's what we want to do. And in the end it's all about the members, what's right for them.”

“This is about service, and they really go out of their way,” said Mike Hanson, a former county commissioner who is now a member of North Star's Board of Directors. “It's just a wild time out there for dollars and cents.”

Ellis said North Star is eligible to receive $1 million in small-business loans for four area counties, through the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Rural Economic Development Loan and Grant program.

A grant was secured a few years ago from USDA through North Star and loaned to Lake of the Woods County, in order to build a facility to train future electric line workers.

Repayments coming in are going into a revolving loan fund, Ellis said. Funds will go toward different projects, with a focus on creating jobs.

Also Tuesday, commissioners awarded a 4-year road maintenance contract to Jeff Powell Excavating, LLC, of Effie. The contract will run from Oct. 1 through Sept. 30, 2019, at a total cost of $1.57 million. It includes work on county state aid highways, county and township roads, and county-owned bridges around Gemmell, Mizpah and Northome.

Land Commissioner Nathan Heibel announced the timber auction dates for 2016 are Jan. 27, May 4, Aug. 3 and Nov. 16.

He reported a total of 17,956 cords were sold at the Aug. 5 timber auction, for a total auction sale value of $562,743. Total aspen prices ranged from $17.50 per cord to $83.25 per cord. The total aspen average price was $42, which included some balm. Total sale all-species average was $31.34.

Timber prices are up sharply in the last year or so, but in the long term that means increased costs for Minnesota mills, Heibel said.