WILLMAR - The staff at Willmar Municipal Utilities had a long list of projects to start, continue and, in some cases, finish last year.

"2018 seems like a long time ago already," said Jeron Smith, staff electrical engineer.

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One of the biggest projects taking shape in 2019 is the Priam substation.

"Right now a lot of the steel is going up. It is starting to look like a substation," Smith said.

The substation, which has been in the works for a few years, will increase efficiency and reliability for Willmar's electrical grid.

Smith, along with Todd Graves, line department supervisor, gave the Municipal Utilities Commission a presentation this week on their departments' 2018 projects and what is upcoming this year.

In 2018 the Priam substation control building was installed, foundations were constructed and the underground work for the 69-kilovolt line were completed. The subgrade work for the 115-kilovolt line was put on hold due to the cold.

"If we have an early thaw, that would be great," Smith said.

Willmar Municipal Utilities is on schedule for a summer in-service date for the substation. However, due to the federal government shutdown, Great River Energy has been unable to get a permit it needs from U.S. Fish and Wildlife to install its transmission lines out of the substation.

Great River Energy is unsure if the required work will be completed before spring testing of the substation and the scheduled summer in-service deadline.

"We don't have an urgent need to get this done by this summer," Smith said. "We'll have more discussion and see where that leads."

Willmar Utilities will also be installing additional transmission lines to the system.

"When we add Priam, we are adding transmission lines," Smith said.

Also this year, the line department continues to replace street lights around Willmar with new energy-efficient LED fixtures. They are currently focused on the lights along residential and arterial streets.

"We are about 40 percent complete," Graves said.

Upcoming in 2019 is the start of the Willmar Wye railroad project, and the utilities will have a part to play. Both power lines and watermains will have to be moved as work progresses on the railroad bypass project on the west edge of Willmar.

Graves said a three-phase line along state Highway 40 and near where new road bridges will be constructed will have to be addressed.

"It has got to get moved, or moved underground," Graves said. "We will try to take of that right away."

There will also be a power line project completed once the reconstruction of U.S. Highway 12 is completed.

"The wye project will be an interesting project," Commission President Carol Laumer said.

Willmar Municipal Utilities completed needed upgrades to its diesel generators in spring 2018. While the Environmental Protection Agency did not require the utilities' generators be emission-compliant - because they are only used for emergency generation, the Midcontinent Independent System Operator has different requirements. MISO monitors a portion of the nation's transmission grid in the middle of the country.

"To receive capacity credits in the MISO system, we need to get these EPA compliant," Smith said.

The payback for the upgraded emission system on the generators is about three years, Smith said.

"The construction went quite well," Smith said.