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Glitch stops turbines from turning

Willmar's two wind turbines are pictured this summer, soon after being erected. The turbines have not been turning of late because the manufacturer failed to install a vital component to enable the turbines to work in cold weather. Tribune photo

WILLMAR -- Willmar's two wind turbines have not been turning for a week and a half because the manufacturer did not install heating equipment required to keep the high-tech equipment at the top of the towers operating in cold weather.

The turbine manufacturer, DeWind, has not provided a reason why the cold weather package, which was included in the $3.1 million purchase price for each turbine, was not installed this past summer when the turbines were constructed, according to Bruce Gomm, Willmar Municipal Utilities general manager.

Gomm said DeWind sent a maintenance crew Dec. 7 to investigate and found out the cold weather package was missing. Gomm said DeWind will be responsible for installing the package. He said the parts have been ordered, are scheduled to arrive today and will be installed shortly after that.

Gomm reported Monday on the status of the turbines in response to questions from Municipal Utilities Commission members.

The members said they had received calls from citizens asking why the turbines were not turning. The turbines are designed to provide enough power to supply about 3 percent of Willmar energy needs.

Gomm said he shares their sentiments. He said utility staff workers have also received calls from irate residents. He said the turbines are very complicated machines and many parameters must be satisfied before they will turn. Because of the cold weather, the parameters were not satisfied.

Gomm said he agrees with the commissioners that the utility lost some good energy production days. But he hopes the public continues to show its support for the turbines.

"The turbines are theirs,'' he said. "The customers own these turbines, and we definitely want to know if they have concerns or positive support for them.''

In other business, the commission approved a 2010 combined revenue budget for the electric, water and heating divisions of $26,242,900, down from $26,714,100 in 2009, and a combined expenditure budget of $23,648,000 for the three divisions, down from $24,403,800 in 2009.

After other income is added and other deductions subtracted, the utility estimates it will have net earnings (similar to profit in the private sector) of $2,469,700 in 2010, compared with $2,427,400 in 2009.

After the utility makes the intergovernmental transfer payment to the city of $1,842,300 in 2010, the utility estimates it will have retained earnings of $627,400 in 2010, compared with $656,000 in 2009.

Net earnings are used to pay for capital projects.

Among the $475,000 in power production projects for 2010 are $116,000 to replace 69-kilovolt substation breakers and various power plant upgrades.

The electric distribution department has 14 projects totaling $669,100 for such things as service to new residential additions and commercial customers, burying overhead power lines and vehicle replacements.

The water and heating department has six projects totaling $155,000 for such things as transmission mains and valves, water meters and vehicles.

The budget lists eight projects totaling $592,000 for the front office and meter department that include $200,000 to buy land for future utility building upgrades.

The utility will be negotiating with Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway to buy railroad land along Pacific Avenue between Seventh Street and 10th Street Southwest. The utility rents the land from BNSF to store coal for the nearby power plant.

The utility hopes to buy the land, appraised at about $142,000, to construct coal storage and unloading facilities. The facilities will help the utility comply with Minnesota Pollution Control Agency requirements to reduce dust from the outdoor coal pile.

Construction of the storage facilities, estimated at $491,000, would be done in 2011 in conjunction with major power plant upgrades estimated at $6.8 million.

David Little
David Little covers the Willmar City Council, Willmar Municipal Utilities and other city news.
(320) 235-1150