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Willmar Utilities finalizing dedication of turbines

The two wind turbines appear complete Monday towering over the Willmar Senior High School. The $10 million turbines will help Willmar's city-owned utility comply with state renewable energy requirements. The Willmar Municipal Utilities Commission during the regular meeting Monday discussed a dedication ceremony for the turbines. (Tribune photo by Gary Miller)

WILLMAR -- Willmar Municipal Utilities officials are finalizing plans for a program to dedicate the city's two new wind turbines.

Utilities General Manager Bruce Gomm said local and state officials, members of Congress and Gov. Tim Pawlenty will be invited. The program would include an open house for the public to see the turbines.

The event may also be tied to a program by Citizens Energy Plan, a Willmar-area group promoting establishment of a national energy plan.

Construction of the two $10 million turbines began in early June at a site just north of the Willmar Senior High School. The turbines are essentially complete and will help the city-owned utility comply with state renewable energy requirements.

The north turbine was constructed first and is online but is restricted during a break-in period to half of its 2-megawatt capacity, Wes Hompe, staff electrical engineer, told the Municipal Utilities Commission on Monday. He said a consistent wind speed of 8 mph is needed to begin producing electricity. Peak output is reached at about 18 mph.

In other business, the commission received a report from Jeff Kimpling, manager of electric services, about a power outage caused by a tree branch striking a 69-kilovolt power line during a wind and lightning storm at 5:51 p.m. July 20.

The outage located at East High Avenue next to Burlington Northern Santa Fe land interrupted service to 1,915 customers for 57 minutes. The line crews trimmed a group of trees in the area to prevent further problems, said Kimpling.

Utility reliability standards require staff members to inform the commission about any major service interruption at the feeder level and above which affects 500 or more customers for one or more hours.

Also Monday, Kimpling reported on construction that begins this week on the utility's substation at the new wastewater treatment plant, located five miles west of Willmar. The utility is sharing the substation's estimated $523,670 cost under a negotiated agreement with the city.

The cost was negotiated after utility officials learned last summer that the design of the substation's high-voltage equipment was not what the utility considered to be its standard design, but would be built with redundant equipment.

Redundancy refers to designing into the equipment a number of systems that can "take over'' if one part of the system fails to work. Gomm said redundancy was apparently a construction requirement.

Utility officials said they told the city they did not feel it was fair for electric utility customers to compensate for somebody else's requirement.

"We have a standard design and this was above and beyond our standard design,'' said Gomm. "We told the city and (wastewater consultant) Donohue we would pay for our normal design and work with them, but felt they should compensate us for the additional cost of providing that additional equipment.''

The power supply to the substation will eventually change under the service territory agreement from Kandiyohi Power Cooperative through Allied Power to the municipal utility, according to the schedule outlined by Kimpling.

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