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South Dakota utility interested in selling power to city MUC

WILLMAR -- A South Dakota utility says it's interested in replacing the power that Willmar Municipal Utilities buys under a contract from another supplier that expires in five years.

The unexpected interest expressed by Heartland Consumer Power District of Madison, S.D., in selling up to 30 megawatts of power to replace 30 megawatts from Great River Energy under a contract that expires in 2015 is very good news, said Bruce Gomm, Willmar utilities general manager.

Gomm is pleased with Heartland's interest because Willmar had planned to replace GRE's contract with 30 megawatts from the proposed Big Stone II power plant in eastern South Dakota, but the Big Stone project was cancelled in October.

The outlook for replacing Big Stone's power supply was unsure until about a month ago when Heartland expressed its interest to Willmar officials attending a meeting of the Minnesota Municipal Utilities Association.

Another hopeful sign occurred earlier this month when Willmar agreed to join a coalition of municipal utilities studying the possibility of jointly buying power to meet long-term energy needs. The coalition was being promoted by Central Minnesota Municipal Power Agency.

"When Big Stone was cancelled, I didn't think I'd be having this conversation. This is very good news for Willmar,'' Gomm said during Monday's meeting with the Municipal Utilities Commission.

The 30-megawatt contract with Great River Energy supplies much of Willmar's energy needs. Willmar's electrical system peak during the months of May through September may reach 65 megawatts, while the peak from October through April is as high as 49 megawatts, according to utility statistics.

Heartland's website says the agency provides power to municipalities, state agencies and one electric cooperative in South Dakota, Minnesota and Iowa. Gomm said Heartland is part-owner of four power plants that have energy to sell and is part-owner of a 220-megawatt plant being built in Nebraska that's expected to begin service in 2011.

Gomm said he is waiting to receive a letter of intent to negotiate from Heartland before he recommends the commission authorize him to begin discussions with the South Dakota utility. Gomm said negotiations with both Central Minnesota and Heartland would continue at the same time "to maximize our options.''

Gomm said the Central Minnesota coalition is still discussing the power purchase agreement. He said "off ramps'' will be provided for utilities to leave the coalition that might not want to continue the discussion.

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