Supporting electric co-op members across Minnesota, Connexus Energy successfully challenges unlawful BNSF practices

Courtesy: Minnesota Rural Electric Association (MREA)

Connexus Energy and electric cooperatives across the state were handed a critical victory, Sept. 9, regarding fees and requirements related to rail- road crossings.

The Minnesota Public Utilities Com- mission (PUC) decided in favor of Con- nexus in a petition for resolution of a dispute with BNSF Railway Company.

Utilities must cross existing railroad rights-of-way in order to provide necessary services to consumers, and electric cooperatives are no exception. Railroad companies and utilities are required to work together to maintain safety and smooth operations.

This ruling directs BNSF to comply with state law regarding access to railroad rights-of-way to enable construction and maintenance necessary for electric grid reliability. Connexus made every reasonable attempt to resolve the dispute through negotiation, but ultimately brought it to the PUC.

“Connexus and our members are grateful for the unambiguous 5-0 decision from the PUC,” said Nick Loehlein, vice president of electric operations for Connexus.

The Minnesota Rural Electric Association participated to communicate the interests of all electric cooperatives. “Together as a strong family of Minnesota cooperatives, we stood up for
what’s right for all electric cooperative member-owners,” added Loehlein.

In addition to Loehlein, the following people testified in front of the PUC: Felhaber Larson Attorney Sara McGrane, MREA CEO Darrick Moe, Todd-Wadena Electric Cooperative CEO Dan Carlisle, and Meeker Cooperative Light and Power CEO Tim Mergen.

History of right-of-way issues

After several years of the rail industry charging cooperatives unreasonable fees, in 2016 the Minnesota legislature passed a law that set a standard crossing fee and established a clear process and requirements for utility crossings of railways.

BNSF previously appealed a similar petition filed with the Commission in
2018, but the Minnesota Court of Appeals affirmed the statute.

Despite the statute, BNSF routinely charges Connexus and other electric cooperatives across the state unreasonable fees above what is allowed by statute, and subjects the cooperatives to
compliance with unwarranted additional requirements that risk grid reliability, delay construction and increase costs.

A critical victory

The Commission agreed unanimously with Connexus, deciding in their favor on all eight decision points. Additionally, Commissioner Tuma drafted a decision option for the Commission
to investigate the conduct that has been occurring. “This is a shining example of cooperation among cooperatives,” said Moe. “Connexus undertook the petition for the collective benefit of all of Minnesota’s not-for-profit electric cooperatives and their member-owners to ensure the continued delivery of reliable and affordable energy.”