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Willmar Utilities Commission receives report on power outage

WILLMAR — An equipment failure at the substation near the Highway 71/23 bypass left an unknown number of Willmar Municipal Utilities customers without power early Saturday morning, said Wesley Hompe, utility general manager.

The number of affected customers is not known at this time. The failure occurred at about 4:30 a.m. Linemen restored power about two hours later.

Hompe said the affected piece of transmission line has been isolated and he said the utility is waiting for parts. He hopes the line is “back up and running’’ this week. If not, the parts will be installed as they arrive.

Hompe told the Municipal Utilities Commission about the outage during the commission’s regular meeting Monday. Hompe said those pieces of equipment were on schedule to be replaced “but they beat us to it.’’

On another matter, Hompe updated the commission at the request of President Steve Salzer on the utility’s two wind turbines. Neither of them is running.

Hompe said both turbines have the same problem with the high-voltage switch at the base of each tower. The repair work is covered under an extended warranty with turbine maker DeWind Co.

Hompe noted the utility two weeks ago sent a letter to DeWind requesting $254,354 in warranty payments for three years of lost electrical production due to breakdowns and repairs.

The request was made after Jon Folkedahl, director of electric production, presented a report on three years of turbine electrical production.

Last week, Folkedahl sent an email to DeWind indicating the company has not responded to Willmar’s request and that DeWind has not provided a schedule of when company technicians will be in Willmar to work on the switches, Hompe said.

Folkedahl said Monday that he has not received word from DeWind. Folkedahl said he included in the email the names of the two individuals who are in charge of maintenance for DeWind in Oklahoma.

If they don’t respond in the near future, Folkedahl said, he would “move farther up the DeWind food chain and try to shake some trees at the presidential level.’’

Hompe said the utility does not seem to be getting the response that it should be getting from DeWind.

“It’s confusing because they’ve been very good prior to this event, and they come out and take care of it as soon as they see a problem. I think these are very good pieces of equipment. They just need to have the proper work on them,’’ he said.

“It’s just a basic 15,000-volt switch. Willmar Utilities has 20-30 of them in our system. Can’t be that complicated. But it’s something that they need to address,’’ he said.

The commission also voted to request bids from companies to construct a coal car hydraulic unloader. Folkedahl said the project “has been a long time in the works.’’ The engineer’s estimate is $289,000 and the cost is budgeted this year.

The unloader will be mounted on steel over the railroad track where the coal cars are parked and unloaded behind the downtown power plant. Hompe said the new equipment will be able to unload frozen coal better and safer than the truck-mounted hoe used by the utility for more than 30 years.

In other business:

  • The commission voted to allow Wenck Associates of Fargo, N.D., to proceed with a stormwater pollution control study to monitor total suspended solids and iron in runoff from the utility’s coal pile site along Pacific Avenue between Seventh and Eighth Streets Southwest.

Folkedahl said the utility is required to operate within conditions of the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System – State Discharge System permit.

One permit condition requires the utility collect stormwater runoff samples from three locations on the north side of the power plant.

The samples are laboratory analyzed for total suspended solids and iron. The purpose is to monitor the amount of pollutants that the power plant sends to Foot Lake through the storm sewer system.

The action requested is intended to reduce and filter total suspended solids and iron in the stormwater runoff before it enters the storm sewer.

If the utility exceeds what are called benchmark values, the utility must reduce total suspended solids and iron levels. If the utility successfully reduces pollutant levels for a year, “then we’re pretty much free and clear. We’re done with sampling,’’ he said.

  • The commission voted to seek proposals from consultants to assess the condition and operation of the current power plant cooling towers. A consultant will study the best means to maintain cooling capacity and support power plant electrical generation capacity.

The utility generates electricity using two steam-driven turbines. Steam is provided by coal and natural gas-fired boilers, and cooling is provided by a four-cell cooling tower and a two-cell cooling tower.

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