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Minnesota River city's troubles upgrading hydroelectric generation come in threes

The Minnesota Legislature adjourned before voting on a bill that would have provided $2.2 million to Granite Falls for both critical infrastructure repairs at its hydroelectric facility and dam and also to make up a $490,000 gap in funding for a replacement hydroelectric generator.

Granite Falls city workers replace the flashboards on the dam in Granite Falls during a tour on Thursday, July 22, 2022.
Granite Falls city workers replace the flashboards on the dam in Granite Falls on Thursday, July 22, 2022. The municipal dam and powerhouse for hydroelectric generators are in need of an estimated $1.8 million in repairs. The city will seek $2.29 million in funding from the next Legislature for those repairs and also to make up a $490,000 gap in funding for a replacement hydroelectric generator. The Minnesota Legislature adjourned this year before voting on a bill that would have provided $2.2 million.
Macy Moore / West Central Tribune
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GRANITE FALLS — Trouble comes in threes, and that’s been the story for Granite Falls in its efforts to upgrade its hydroelectric generation facility on the Minnesota River.

Two years ago, the state Legislature approved renewable energy funding to allow the city to replace one of its three hydroelectric generators. Bids for a new generator came in higher than the funding provided, leaving the city with a $490,000 gap to fill.

More Granite Falls:
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Artists in the Upper Minnesota River Valley are hosting the 18th annual arts crawl known as the Meander, featuring 41 artists throughout the five-county region.

When the river waters were lowered for engineers to assess the work needed for the new project, more problems were exposed: The municipal dam and powerhouse for the generators were in need of an estimated $1.8 million in repairs.

All of which seemed to be solved when the Legislature this year advanced a bill to provide $2.2 million to the city of 2,900 people to meet those needs. But strike three came when the Legislature adjourned without a vote on the bill.

Granite Falls mayor Dave Smiglewski speaks about the hydroelectric dam in Granite Falls during a tour on Thursday, July 22, 2022.
Granite Falls Mayor Dave Smiglewski speaks about the hydroelectric dam in Granite Falls during a tour Thursday, July 22, 2022.
Macy Moore / West Central Tribune

It was frustrating, Granite Falls Mayor Dave Smiglewski told Sen. Gary Dahms, R-Redwood Falls, and Rep. Chris Swedzinski, R- Ghent, who had guided the bill during the session. Smiglewski spoke during a meeting Thursday at the generation facility.

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The city is asking the legislators anew for $2.29 million in funding for what City Manager Crystal Johnson described as critical infrastructure repairs to upgrade the facility and make up for the overrun in costs for a new hydro-generation turbine.

Johnson told the legislators that the project to install the new generator was being sought to help the city manage the tax impact of the closure of the former Northern States Power plant in the community. Its closing represents an annual loss in taxes of more than $112,000 for the city, she explained.

The city is tapping revenues from its municipal electric operations to make up for the tax loss. Replacing a 1984-vintage generator that no longer is operable with a modern, variable-speed unit would increase electric generation and improve the municipal utility’s financial performance, Johnson and Smiglewski explained.

Minnesota State Representative Chris Swedzinski peers over the edge of a platform at the hydroelectric dam in Granite Falls during a tour on Thursday, July 22, 2022.
Minnesota State Rep. Chris Swedzinski peers over the edge of a platform at the hydroelectric dam in Granite Falls during a tour Thursday, July 22, 2022.
Macy Moore / West Central Tribune

Swedzinski and Dahms expressed some optimism about bringing a request to a new Legislature. Swedzinski said that he expects that taxes and energy policies will be among the first items on the agenda when a new Legislature convenes in 2023.

Mayor Smiglewski said the city’s request for funds to develop a carbon-free, renewable energy source had won bipartisan support in the last two legislative sessions. “We were so close trying to get this additional funding,” he said.

 The city of Granite Falls is seeking to make up a $400,000 gap in funding to upgrade its hydroelectric dam.
The city of Granite Falls is seeking to make up a $490,000 gap in funding for a new hydroelectric generator and $1.9 million for critical repairs to the facility.
Macy Moore / West Central Tribune
Granite Falls city workers replace the flashboards on the the dam in Granite Falls during a tour on Thursday, July 22, 2022.
Granite Falls city workers replace the flashboards on the the dam Thursday, July 22, 2022, in Granite Falls.
Macy Moore / West Central Tribune
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Two deaths were reported Sunday on the Minnesota River in Renville County. One body was discovered in a log jam between Franklin and Morton, while the second was a young male who had been swimming in the river near Vicksburg Park. Both are under investigation.
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Tom Cherveny is a regional and outdoors reporter for the West Central Tribune.
He has been a reporter with the West Central Tribune since 1993.

Cherveny can be reached via email at tcherveny@wctrib.com or by phone at 320-214-4335.
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