Our Company History

  • Aboutcohistory2


    George Wright, considered the founder of Fergus Falls, builds Central Dam along the Otter Tail River in this small Minnesota town. 

  • 1879

    Thomas Edison invents the lightbulb.

  • 1882

    Boston architect Vernon Wright inherits Central Dam from his father.

  • 1902

    Wright begins converting his arc light customers to electricity and explores the Fergus Falls area for other dam sites. 

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    Wright and three other investors incorporate Otter Tail Power Company and begin building Dayton Hollow Dam at a cost of $100,000. 

  • 1909

    Dayton Hollow hydroelectric plant goes on line in April and serves its first customer, the Northern Light Electric Company, in Wahpeton, North Dakota.

  • 1914

    Otter Tail Power Company begins operating Hoot Lake hydroelectric plant, which the company had built northeast of Fergus Falls, on the Otter Tail River. The company still operates five hydro plants—Dayton Hollow, Hoot Lake, Pisgah, Taplin Gorge, and Wright—on the Otter Tail River near Fergus Falls and at Bemidji on the Mississippi River.

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    The company's electric system covers 2,000 square miles and includes 44 towns. 

  • 1921

    To handle the increasing demand for electricity, the company builds a 1,500-kilowatt steam plant at Hoot Lake and adds turbines in 1923, 1959, and 1964. The 1921 and 1923 additions are retired in 1949 and 1950, respectively.

  • 1926

    The company builds the first sizable steam plant designed to burn lignite at Washburn, North Dakota. It is retired in 1969.

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    Kidder Station, a near duplicate of the Washburn Plant, goes on line at Wahpeton, North Dakota. The plant is retired in 1975 and razed in 1977. 

  • 1929

    The stock market crashes symbolizing the start of the Great Depression. By this time, the company has expanded service to 314 communities in the region.

  • 1933

    Thomas Wright, Vernon Wright's son, becomes president of Otter Tail Power Company. 

  • 1936

    Congress passes the Rural Electrification Act, and Otter Tail Power Company begins providing wholesale power to area cooperatives the following year.

  • 1938

    Negotiations between the company and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers culminate in signing the first labor agreement with employees.

  • 1941

    The company grows by 25 percent when it becomes the surviving company in a merger with Union Public Service Company.

  • 1944

    The company reaches its maximum territorial size serving a total of 496 communities after adding several towns in the Bemidji, Crookston, and Hallock areas in Minnesota.

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    Director, Vice President, and General Manager C.S. Kennedy, who for nearly 25 years had been the iron man of the company, resigns; management decentralizes.

  • 1946

    Electricity use skyrockets after World War II. The company turns to diesel and gas generators to bridge the gap while additional steam generation is being built. 

  • 1950

    A 15,000-kilowatt steam plant goes online at Ortonville, Minnesota. It is retired in 1988.

  • 1952

    Cyrus Wright, another of Vernon Wright's sons, becomes president of the company.

  • Gofrontdoor1957


    The transition from being a self-contained provider to being part of an integrated network of power suppliers is complete.

    The City of Fergus Falls agrees to sell its municipal system to Otter Tail Power Company which, in turn, agrees to build its new General Office there, to be occupied in 1955.

  • 1960

    With the opening of a District Office at Milbank, South Dakota, the company has 14 decentralized locations to provide customer service. Milbank, Bemidji, Canby, Crookston, Fergus Falls, Hallock, and Morris in Minnesota comprise the East Division; Devils Lake, Garrison, Jamestown, Langdon, Oakes, Rugby, and Wahpeton comprise the North Dakota Division. These later become known as Division Offices and still later as Customer Service Centers. By 2016 the number is reduced to 9.

  • 1961

    Albert Hartl becomes president and serves until 1976, transitioning the company from a family business to a modern corporation.

  • 1963

    Directors adopt a two-for-one common stock split. This occurs again in 1988 and 2000. 

  • 1967

    The dispatch center installs the company's first computer. 

  • 1975

    The 450-megawatt Big Stone Plant goes on line near Milbank, South Dakota. Six small, old, inefficient generating plants are retired at Bemidji, Canby, and Crookston in Minnesota and at Devils Lake, Jamestown, and Wahpeton in North Dakota.

    Robert Bigwood becomes president and serves until 1983.

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    Coyote Station, with a capacity of 420 megawatts, goes on line near Beulah, North Dakota.

  • 1982

    John MacFarlane is named president and serves until 2002.

  • 1989

    To boost flat utility revenues, Otter Tail Power Company forms Mid-States Development (later named Varistar) to acquire and oversee nonutility businesses.

  • 1992

    Minnesota passes a law that electric utilities must spend 1.5 percent of their electric revenues to encourage Minnesotans to conserve electricity. 

  • 1996

    www.otpco.com website is launched. 

  • 2001

    Shareholders approve changing the corporate name to Otter Tail Corporation. The electric utility continues to operate as Otter Tail Power Company. John Erickson is named president of Otter Tail Corporation.

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    Douglas Kjellerup is named president of Otter Tail Power Company. Charles MacFarlane is named interim president after Kjellerup suffers a stroke.

    The company purchases the 900-kilowatt output of a wind generator along the Buffalo Ridge near Hendricks, Minnesota.

  • 2003

    Charles MacFarlane is named president of Otter Tail Power Company.

  • 2004

    We serve more than 250,000 people in 423 communities in Minnesota, North Dakota, and South Dakota.

  • 2005

    Preparations begin for a rate case in Minnesota, the first since 1986.

  • 2007

    Charles MacFarlane is named CEO of Otter Tail Power Company.

  • 2008

    Langdon Wind Energy Center and Ashtabula Wind Energy Center begin serving customers.

    The company files rate cases in North Dakota, for the first time since 1982, and in South Dakota, for the first time since 1986.

  • 2009

    The company celebrates 100 years of providing electrical service to customers. You can download our commemorative history booklet.

    Luverne Wind Farm begins serving customers.

    Otter Tail Power Company withdraws from the Big Stone II project, which our company and six other utilities had proposed in 2005.

  • 2010

    The company participates with ten other regional utilities in CapX2020, the largest development of new transmission in the Upper Midwest in 30 years.

  • 2012

    After years of using 50,000 square miles as the approximate size of our service territory, a value derived from paper maps and hand calculations, advances in technologies allows us to revise that value to 70,000 square miles, which reflects our service area’s total expanse at its outermost boundaries.

    The CapX2020 Bemidji-Grand Rapids 230-kilovolt transmission line is placed in service. The company owns a portion of this line and led its construction.

  • 2014

    Timothy J. Rogelstad is named president of Otter Tail Power Company; Charles MacFarlane is named president and chief operating officer of Otter Tail Corporation.

    Through an extensive campaign, customers are encouraged to enroll in the company's electronic billing and payment program to reduce costs associated with producing and mailing paper statements.

    Customer communication includes upcoming cost increases attributable to the company's significant investment in CapX2020, Big Stone Plant's air-quality control system, and other large projects.

  • 2015

    The CapX2020 Fargo-Monticello 345-kilovolt transmission line, started in 2010, is completed.

    The CapX2020 Big Stone South-to-Ellendale (BSSE) 345-kilovolt transmission line moves into its construction phase.

    Big Stone Plant's air-quality control system (AQCS) begins commercial operation. To comply with federal and state environmental regulations, construction began in 2013. At a total cost of $384 million, half borne by Otter Tail Power Company, the AQCS is the largest project in our history.

  • 2016

    With more economical payment options available, the company's Customer Service Centers discontinue walk-in service to allow employees to spend more time on efforts that provide greater benefits to more customers.

    Rate case is filed in Minnesota, the first since 2009.

    The company began the five-year process to relicense its five hydroelectric plants along the Otter Tail River.

  • 2017

    The company requests to review rates in North Dakota, the first time since 2008.

    The Edison Electric Institute (EEI) presented Otter Tail Power Company with the association’s Emergency Recovery Award for its outstanding restoration efforts after a snow and ice storm hit on Christmas Day, 2016. More than 4,050 of the company’s South Dakota customers experienced service disruption due to freezing rains and high winds. Crews endured dangerous conditions to replace 3.5 miles of distribution lines, 5 miles of underbuild, and a transmission line, restoring service in six days.

  • 2018

    The company requests to review rates in South Dakota, the first time since 2008.

    The company releases its first report using the Edison Electric Institute’s environmental, social, governance, and sustainability template, the first and only industry-focused and investor-driven reporting framework of its kind.

  • 2019

    The company marked a major milestone in the future of its generation resources by beginning construction on two projects. The Merricourt Wind Energy Center is a 150-megawatt (MW) wind generation facility in southeast North Dakota. Astoria Station is a 245-MW simple-cycle natural gas combustion turbine in east central South Dakota.

    It also launched a new sustainability website, otpsustainability.com, a one-stop shop for the whats, whens, and whys driving the company's sustainability.

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    The company completed the largest capital project in its history. Merricourt Wind Energy Center concluded construction and began commercial operation in the fourth quarter of 2020. The facility generates enough energy to power more than 65,000 homes annually. 

    It also announced plans to build Hoot Lake Solar, a $60 million, 49-MW solar farm, on company-owned and newly purchased land around Hoot Lake Plant in Fergus Falls, Minnesota. The project will generate enough energy to power approximately 10,000 homes each year.

    The company made a request to review rates in Minnesota; the last Minnesota rate review was filed in 2016.

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    This year was transformative in Otter Tail Power Company's energy-generation story. With Merricourt Wind Energy Center producing energy in late 2020, the company brought Astoria Station, a 245-MW natural gas combustion turbine, on line in May 2021. That same month, the company retired Hoot Lake Plant, marking 100 years of coal-fired energy generation at the site.

    The company also filed its Integrated Resource Plan. Its preferred plan includes the addition of fuel oil backup capability at Astoria Station, the addition of 150 MW of solar generation, and the commencement of the process to withdraw from its 35% ownership interest in Coyote Station by December 31, 2028.

  • 2022

    In February FERC issued its order for a new 40-year license for Otter Tail Power Company's five hydroelectric plants along the Otter Tail River.

    In May construction began on Hoot Lake Solar, a $60 million, 49-MW solar project at the site of the company's retired coal-fired Hoot Lake Plant in Fergus Falls, Minnesota.

    In July the MISO Board of Directors approved $10.3 billion in transmission projects focused on its Midwest Subregion. Two transmission projects, the Jamestown-Ellendale project and the Big Stone South-Alexandria project, are in Otter Tail Power's service area. The company will lead development and construction as a joint owner in each project.

    The company also went live with an Outage Management System and telephone-based Integrated Voice Response in December 2022, providing enhanced customer service related to outage restoration.