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Cass County Electric Copperative’s CEO Paul Matthys Has Gone From the Field to the Forefront of Electrical Innovation

Discussing farm life and electricity with Cass County Electric Cooperative’s new CEO, Paul Matthys

In the Northern Plains, where agriculture forms the backbone of our communities, the role of electricity transcends beyond lighting homes and powering gadgets. It fuels rural economic development and drives the efficiency of grain dryers and irrigation systems. It’s something Paul Matthys, Cass County Electric Cooperative’s (CCEC) new president and CEO is familiar with. Having grown up on a farm in rural North Dakota and contributing the last 23 years in various roles at CCEC where he enhanced safety while driving innovation and rate stability, he’s ready to lead the cooperative and its members into the future.

Q: Tell us about growing up in rural North Dakota.

A: I grew up on a farm between Horace and West Fargo. My dad had an electrical contracting business and worked very closely with CCEC in the mid-1980s, helping them develop the dualfuel program. Following in my father’s footsteps, I pursued a career as an electrician and ended up doing some contract work for CCEC, digging in the underground plant and installing off-peak equipment and systems. When I saw a position open at CCEC for an electrician, I applied and got it. Admittedly, I thought it was going to be a stepping stone, but I never left and this is where I plan on ending my career. I’m sort of a “co-op kid” with “co-op blood.” I liked the opportunity the electric co-op provided and the business model to make decisions locally, plus I enjoyed the work and working with our members.

Q: How has this shaped who you are today?

A: I’m very fortunate to grow up in the era that I did and where I did. My dad’s advice was always “be the hardest working kid in the class.” What he meant by that is no matter what you’re doing, just be the hardest worker and don’t compare yourself to anybody else. Compare yourself to yourself. If you want to be better, then be better than yourself. So I took that with me.

Q: Are you still living the farm life?

A: I didn’t move very far. We’re about 12 to 13 miles from our original farm, Southwest of Kindred about 7 miles. It’s a great place to raise a family; hunting, fishing, biking, hiking, all outdoor activities are right there, just like how I grew up. It’s been great for our kids. I couldn’t ask for a better place to raise a family.

Q: As you think about stepping into this new role as president and CEO, what does supporting our communities look like to you?

A: Rural communities are extremely important to CCEC and to me; that’s my roots, that’s where I come from, and that’s where the cooperative started. We not only work with economic development organizations in the cities of West Fargo and Fargo but also with rural development committees to support economic growth in those areas. This includes the Growing Small Towns nonprofit in Oakes, ND, which promotes economic growth in small communities. Giving back is a big focus for us as well. Operation Round Up gives our members an easy way to give back to our communities through bill roundups. I am also proud of our employees who provide their time, talent, and resources to projects like the demolition work we did at the museum in Fort Ransom. We help to maintain and support our rural communities where the resources may not always be there.

Q: Our rural communities can be a little more vulnerable during harsh weather like the ice storms we had this past winter. What do you think it takes to enhance electric reliability in those areas?

A: Most outages do occur in our rural areas so we’re focusing on maintaining and hardening those systems to mitigate outages and enhance the distribution system so it can hold up to the toughest weather like some of the ice storms we experienced this last winter. This means taking down some of the overhead three-phase east-west feeders—where it makes sense—and replacing them with underground cable, along with rebuilding some of that line to our new design specs.

Q: What is CCEC’s role in powering the future of agriculture in North Dakota?

A: Ag is extremely important to our state. So we will continue to work in the rural economic development space by bringing agricultural businesses and loads into our community. We have several members in the ag sector with grain drying and we’re looking at bringing in some large dairy operations. We are providing power, providing service to them, providing a rate, and supporting economic development to get these operations into our communities.

Q: What do you think the electric sustainability roadmap looks like in our state?

A: We’re focusing on embracing technology to improve our member services and inefficiencies while keeping rates stable. Smart meters, for example, will allow for back-and-forth communication. We’re also planning to install a fault location isolation and service restoration (FLISR) system, which can automatically restore power to customers in the event of a fault.

When it comes to our ag community we’re working toward sustainable and efficient energy that reduces their costs and gives them some rate flexibility. This includes providing energy audits for grain drying operations and an off-peak program for grain drying and irrigation.

Q: What’s your approach to educating members on renewable energy?

A: Our job is to be the expert in the energy field and the go-to for answers when it comes to renewable energy.

We do our research and work closely with our power provider, Minnkota Power Cooperative, to ensure we have a healthy balance, which I think we do right now. First and foremost we want to make sure we still support our base load generation. At the end of the day, that’s what’s keeping our lights on 99% of the time, but we also continue to explore new ways to work through this energy transition.

Q: What goals do you have for CCEC?

A: Seeing Project Tundra through. This technology would capture roughly 90% of the carbon dioxide on the Milton R. Young coal-fired power plants in Center, ND. This is an incredible step in ensuring longevity for a reliable and affordable power supply resource for some time. Also, like I mentioned, we’re embracing technology and constantly looking at ways to control our distribution costs, which in turn controls our costs for our members.

Q: How do you ensure that reliability and rate stability remain paramount for your members, even in the face of constant change?

A: We’ve worked with Minnkota over the years to add emission controls on the back end of the coal-fired plants. We have a great mix in our energy supply portfolio of wind and CCEC was the first ever to have a community solar project in the state of North Dakota. Continuing to look at ways to provide energy that’s reliable, stable, and being good stewards of our environment is our dedication to our members.

About Project Tundra

Project Tundra is a carbon capture and storage (CCS) initiative to reduce carbon emissions from the coal-fired Milton R. Young Station near Center, ND. When completed, it will capture up to 4 million metric tons of carbon dioxide a year and safely store it more than one mile underground, making it one of the largest CO2 capture projects in the world.

Cass Country Electric Cooperative
4100 32nd Ave S
Fargo, ND 58104

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