Utilities Commission approves spending more than $6M for two wind turbines

WILLMAR -- Willmar Municipal Utilities officials hope two wind turbines could be delivered and installed during the first three months of 2009 and be producing electricity by March.

WILLMAR -- Willmar Municipal Utilities officials hope two wind turbines could be delivered and installed during the first three months of 2009 and be producing electricity by March.

The Municipal Utilities Commission on Monday approved a low bid from DeWind Inc. of Round Rock, Texas, to buy two turbines at a price of $3,072,500 per turbine. The purchase will be financed with revenue bonds.

The utility has been studying the turbine project for about a year and a half. Last February, the commission voted to advertise for turbine bids.

The turbines will be erected at a site near Willmar Senior High School. A study indicated the high school site and a site near Ridgewater College were favorable for wind turbine placement.

The utility has not moved ahead with placing two turbines at the college site, however, because the Minnesota Department of Transportation Office of Aeronautics has said the turbines there could interfere with future use of the cross-wind runway at the new airport.


Each turbine at the high school site has a capacity of 2 megawatts of energy, for a total of 4 megawatts, at a wind speed of 26 to 30 mph. The wind study indicated the wind reaches that speed 30 percent of the time.

The turbines will provide a renewable energy source for Willmar's peak load of 60 megawatts in the summer and 45 megawatts in the winter.

Willmar Municipal Utilities General Manager Bruce Gomm said he is comfortable recommending the DeWind bid. Gomm said he toured the factory two weeks ago. The 13-year-old company has more than 500 units installed. The units have many safety features and have a proven generator, he said.

Another company, Lorax Energy Systems of Block Island, R.I., submitted higher bids starting at $3,142,493 for units that ranged from 1.5 megawatts to 2.5 megawatts.

Discussion of the bids hit a snag when a reading of the cover letter accompanying the DeWind bid indicated DeWind would not approve the sale if the company did not approve the proposed site.

City Attorney Rich Ronning, who advises the commission, said DeWind's intent to withdraw its bid if the company did not approve the site gave DeWind a competitive advantage over other bidders. He said the DeWind bid was not a firm bid because of that contingency.

He felt other bidders could challenge the commission's decision between now and the time when the City Council approves the commission's minutes at the Aug. 18 council meeting.

Jon Folkedahl of Willmar, turbine project consultant, said turbine companies' standard procedure is to approve the site before they agree to sell a turbine for that site.


The principal concern is that they "don't want their turbines to be placed in a location where the project will fail economically due to lack of wind,'' he said.

Folkedahl said the contingency was contained in the cover letter and not in the bid specifications.

Wes Hompe, utility staff electrical engineer, said DeWind had read Willmar's wind study data.

Commission member Dave Baker offered a motion, seconded by Steve Salzer, to approve the DeWind bid. Baker said he was comfortable with the DeWind bid.

In an interview, Commission President Bob Bonawitz said he was excited about getting the turbine project under way.

"Finding alternative energy is one of the things we are required to do by state mandate --more renewables -- so that's our focus,'' he said.

In other business Monday, the commission voted to support a consultant's recommendations for significant equipment upgrades to improve the efficiency, reliability and economic performance of the 60-year-old power plant.

The recommendations from PCi Management and Consulting of Schaumburg, Ill., were presented to the commission on July 28. The estimated $6.4 million improvements call for a baghouse filter, boiler upgrades, ash handling and enclosure to end coal dust problems.


Approval of the recommendations lets the utility apply for a revised state air quality permit that, if approved, will allow the plant to increase electrical output on coal from 7 megawatts to 16 megawatts.

The improvements were supported by the commission's planning commission.

"We believe all of those issues have to be resolved and I think it would be more expensive if we do it piecemeal and keep at this for a long time,'' said Bonawitz, a planning member. "I just think it makes a lot of sense to bite the bullet and do everything that looks like it needs to be done at one time.''

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