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No progress yet as utility attempts to get warranty work done on its turbines

WILLMAR — There’s been no progress toward getting DeWind Co. to perform warranty work on a high-voltage switch problem that has sidelined the Willmar Municipal Utilities’ two wind turbines for the past several months, the Utilities Commission was told Tuesday.

However, DeWind is satisfying the maintenance contract for the turbines, said Jon Folkedahl, supervisor of electric production for the utilities.

Folkedahl was responding to a request from Commissioner Joe Gimse for an update on the turbines’ status.

General Manager Wesley Hompe said Folkedahl has been in contact with switch vendors. The utility does not yet have the switches.

“We want to make sure that we haven’t ordered something that DeWind has ordered and the piece of equipment is on its way before we decide to order our own,’’ said Hompe. “We’re going to make sure that all of that is in place. But we’re still looking for those 15,000-volt switches.’’

Gimse asked if the utility can install the switches or hire a contractor to do the installation.

“What is our position, then, and have we had any contact with DeWind as far as getting their people out here to take care of this warranty work?’’ Gimse asked.

Hompe deferred to Folkedahl, who said he has had “pretty steady contact and communication’’ with DeWind technicians.

Folkdahl said the task of installing the switches is not highly technical. He said there are questions about follow-up activities regarding the remaining electronics in the turbines. Folkedahl said he’s trying learn what DeWind’s plans are to resolve the problem.

“The physical nature of replacing it won’t be difficult,’’ he said. “We can do that ourselves if we have to. What we need to do, though, is kind of move carefully so that we don’t step on our toes, so to speak, by moving ahead without full knowledge of what DeWind’s plans are,’’ he said.

“It just seems to me,’’ Gimse said, “that we have to probably get a hold of DeWind and have them understand that we need to have those turbines up and running. We have two pieces of equipment out there that are production equipment that are standing still.’’

He asked if installation by the utility would cause a problem with DeWind’s continued warranty work.

Hompe said a contract clause allows the utility to do the work, provided DeWind receives formal notification. Such notification has not been sent. But the utility is investigating that avenue, according to Hompe.

Folkedahl added that the DeWind technician team was heading to Willmar on Tuesday to perform normal, scheduled six-month maintenance activities.

“They are continuing to satisfy the requirements of the maintenance contract. We just haven’t been able to make any progress as of yet with this breaker issue,’’ he said.

In other business, the commission:

- Voted to request proposals from vendors to provide a customer information system, a financial information system and work management system. Hompe said the complex group of computer programs would replace a 30-year-old system developed by the utility. Proposals are due Nov. 15. Commissioner Matt Schrupp said knowing the cost is important as the commission budgets for 2014. The new system should be able to improve the efficiency of the operation, he said.

- Approved the $148,859.50 bid from Sarka Ltd. of Tifflin, Ohio, for a new coal car hydraulic unloader. Sarka was the only company to submit a bid. The unloader will be delivered in 15 to 17 weeks, said Hompe. The project will include construction of supporting steel upon which the unloader will be placed in order to unload railroad cars bringing coal to the downtown power plant. Commissioner Jerry Gesch said the new unloader is a safety matter. He said the current system is old, was not designed for safety and is almost an accident waiting to happen, whereas the new system is designed for safety. Folkedahl said the utility had a near-miss with the existing system last week. The operator fell but fortunately was not injured to the extent of missing any time off from work, he said.

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