June 2024 Vol. 79 No. 6


Restoring power to Minnesota’s northwest angle

In far north Minnesota, Lake of the Woods and areas around it have long been popular vacation destinations.

North of the lake is the Northwest Angle (NWA), the “chimney” extending up into Canada, a peninsula and various islands where many people enjoy the beauty of nature and excellent fishing, either via camping or at one of the destination’s resorts.

Roseau Electric Cooperative (REC) has served the NWA and Islands since Dec, 1, 1973, when the first 30 customers were connected to electricity. But major flooding during the summer of 2022 severely compromised the power system. Many transformers submerged under water and many miles of cable were damaged from soil erosion due to the wave action.

After that, resorts and businesses were forced to depend on not-always-reliable solar power and generators.

To reconnect the northernmost community of the continental U.S. and surrounding areas, the REC team had to plan and execute a project that included complicated underwater installations and transporting the necessary drills, cables and parts to complete the job on the various islands.

Restoring power

Last fall, the flood damaged project was completed with many improvements, using horizontal directional drilling off the islands out into deeper water, so that waves and ice wouldn’t affect it. Reliable electricity was brought back to these areas.

“I think the major steps for being able to complete the NWA project were to get the right equipment to these remote parts of the island,” said Mike Millner, line superintendent at REC. “Some of this equipment includes a 44-foot barge to haul equipment, vibratory cable plow and directional drill. We also have a great bunch of guys willing to work some long hours away from home.”

From the outset, it was clear horizontal directional drilling would play an important part in completing the project.

“While working for over 25 years in power line construction, I felt there had been quite a few delays in starting several jobs,” Millner said. “Time was wasted just waiting for contractors to show up. When you own your own drill, you can drill quite a few more projects with less clean up later. That would not be the case if we had to pay a contractor.”

Millner turned to Vermeer dealer RDO Equipment to get information on directional drilling and what model would best suit the needs. REC purchased a D20x22 drill unit with a pullback rating of 22,000 pounds, and RDO trained REC personnel in its operation.

“Our crews drill anything from distribution power lines, secondary power lines, fiber optic lines, and water and sewer lines,” Millner said. “Whenever there is a chance of a landowner getting upset about the footprint left by our construction, we will just directionally drill it.”

Important role for HDD

Directional drilling played a critical role in bringing reliable power to the northern islands.

“I would say that we have over 30 spots that we directionally drilled out into the Lake,” Millner said. “We tried to pop the drill tip out in around 8 to 10 feet of water. My linemen would hook up the pulling sock for the pullback.”

The project was completed in two years, with 36,000 feet of new cable installed.

An unusual challenge was that it was difficult to find lodging for crews on the islands, because most of the resorts filled up with fishermen, so Milner rented a private cabin.

“The most important element in completing this difficult project was the dedicated personnel that just pushed forward to get the job done,” said Milner.

REC purchased a second drill, and with two drill rigs and trained personnel with experience operating them, REC has established a directional drilling division to serve customers needing drilling – mostly short distribution lines and water lines.

Roseau Electric Cooperative distributes electricity purchased from Minnkota Power Cooperative, a wholesale power supplier whose corporate headquarters is located in Grand Forks, N.D.


Roseau Electric Cooperative, (218) 463-1543, roseauelectric.coop

Vermeer Corp., (888) 837-6337, vermeer.com

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