WILLMAR — The self-imposed Sept. 1 deadline set by the Willmar Municipal Utilities Commission to find a possible buyer for the mothballed Willmar Power Plant has officially passed and now attention is turning to the eventual demolition of the structure.

Willmar Municipal Utilities General Manager John Harren, in an interview with the West Central Tribune following Monday's commission meeting, said several tours of the plant were given to interested parties, but they all came to the same decision.

"They all came to the conclusion that the building wasn't what they were envisioning," Harren said. "There really was not a lot of opportunities to renovate and repurpose that building."

Harren said with the deadline having passed, staff are now searching for a consultant to help plan for the needed asbestos abatement and demolition of the plant. Willmar Municipal Utilities is estimating it will cost approximately $2.7 million to complete the tasks needed.

Prior to the plant being torn down, a brand new downtown substation has to be built to house the power controls that are currently in the plant. The new substation, with an estimated cost of $5.3 million, will be built in the old coal yard of the power plant.

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"We are hoping to have that online by the end of September next year, a year from now," Harren said.

While construction of the substation won't start until next spring, Willmar Municipal Utilities is already purchasing equipment. The transformer for the substation was purchased in June for $969,485, including spare parts. It is estimated to take nearly a year before the transformer is delivered.

At Monday's commission meeting, approval was given to purchase $264,173 worth of additional equipment. The delivery for those pieces is also several months out, but that is not a worry for staff.

"All of deliveries fit within our construction window," said Jeron Smith, staff electrical engineer.

Due to labor and material shortages that are impacting the power industry, the bids were slightly over initial estimates. Overall the project is also coming in slightly over estimates, but still within the contingency built into the budget.

"We're about $150,000 over our estimate, but we are still within that 10% contingency," Smith said.

The Willmar Power Plant has been a landmark in downtown for decades, with the oldest portion of the structure dating back to the 1920s. When running at full steam, the coal and natural gas burning plant could produce approximately 18 megawatts of power an hour. However, that is nowhere near the amount the city uses, which is, on average, 50 megawatts. It is far cheaper for Willmar Municipal Utilities to purchase all of its power on the open market than produce some of it in the plant.

The power plant's official demise was tied up in the decommissioning of the city's district heating system, the only reason the plant was still running for the past several years. The last operating day for district heat, and the power plant, was June 30, 2020.

The last day for the power plant is nearing ever closer, but "it'll be spring 2023 before the power plant comes down," Harren said.