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Power and water usage stays flat in Willmar

WILLMAR -- While most of the power Willmar Municipal Utilities' 9,646 electrical customers use is purchased from other sources through long-term power purchasing contracts, the city does still produce power, mostly from its wind turbines.

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File photo / Tribune The Willmar turbines are picture in this Tribune file photo. The severe cold weather in January interupted energy production for two days during the productive month.

WILLMAR - While most of the power Willmar Municipal Utilities' 9,646 electrical customers use is purchased from other sources through long-term power purchasing contracts, the city does still produce power, mostly from its wind turbines.

In 2018 it cost Willmar Municipal Utilities approximately 6.4 cents per kilowatt-hour to either purchase or produce power.

A review of last year in the power supply and meter departments, along with an update on the wind turbines, was given during Municipal Utilities Commission meeting on Feb. 11.

Last year also marked the utilities' entrance into the Missouri River Energy Service joint action agency. As part of the agency, Willmar Municipal Utilities will be able to purchase power with a group of utilities, which is estimated to save hundreds of thousands of dollars in power purchasing costs over the years.

In 2018, residential customers used over 67 million kilowatt-hours of electricity, with commercial customers using over 105 million and industrial customers using 109 million.

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On the water side, all customers used 164,845,346 cubic feet of water, or approximately 1,233,128,822 gallons of water. One cubic foot equals about 7.48 gallons.

Stacy Stien, customer service supervisor, said electrical use across the three customer categories has stayed flat over the last five years. The same is also true for district heat and water use.

For the wind turbines, 2018 was not the best year. Early year issues with the pitch control unit on Turbine 4, which controls the blades, caused the turbine to be down for all of January, February and most of March. This reduced the amount of power the turbines were able to produce, a total of 5,656,538 kilowatt-hours. This was the lowest total in four years.

The good news is January 2019 was the strongest January the turbines have had in four years, with 624,884 kilowatt-hours produced.

"Overall it was a good month," said Kevin Marti, facilities and maintenance supervisor.

January was also a very cold month. Both the wind turbines and the power plant ran into some issues during the deep freeze at the end of the month.

Centerpoint Energy, which provides the natural gas on which the power plant runs, requested the utilities only use the amount of natural gas in its contract. This required the utilities to reduce the heat slightly in the district heat system, but only one customer called to question it, District Manager John Harren said.

Staff tried to fire up the diesel generators to supplement the natural gas, but the cold got to the generators as well.

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"The fuel was turning to jelly," Chris Carlson, power supply manager, said.

The turbines themselves shut down for two days, due to the terrible cold. They are only built to run in temperatures at or above 21 below zero. When the temperatures fell below that, they faulted out. However, once the weather moderated, the turbines were back up and spinning.

"We made it through the cold spell quite well overall," Harren said.

Shelby Lindrud is a reporter with the West Central Tribune of Willmar. Her focus areas are arts and entertainment, agriculture, features writing and the Kandiyohi County Board.

She can be reached via email slindrud@wctrib.com or direct 320-214-4373.


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